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‘We’re going to win right now’

AUBURN, Ala. -- Preseason practice for Auburn baseball got underway Sunday with less than three weeks until the opening game of the Sunny Golloway era.

Haecker fields a grounder during Sunday's practice.

“I like the way our guys have worked,” Golloway said. “I like the way our seniors have stepped up and showed a lot of leadership.”

Auburn returns 11 seniors including center fielder Ryan Tella, shortstop Dan Glevenyak, third baseman Damek Tomscha, catcher Blake Austin, first baseman/designated hitter Patrick Savage, starting pitcher Michael O’Neal and relief pitcher Terrance Dedrick.

Golloway praised the previous staff, including pitching coach Scott Foxhall, for not leaving the cupboard bare.

“Rather you liked them or not, you’ve got to give them credit. Those guys did a good job recruiting some really good student athletes,” he said. “That’s one of the things you’ll never hear out of my mouth is, ‘When I get my guys.’

“These are my guys. We’re going to win and we’re going to win right now.”

Tella returns after a disappointing junior season in which he hit .259. Golloway is confident Tella can get back to the level he played as a sophomore when he led the team with a .360 average.

“The level he’s playing at right now, he will be a high draft choice,” Golloway said.

Golloway was pleased with the play of his defense and bullpen during fall practice and individual workouts. Dedrick will close and Golloway will use junior Trey Cochran-Gill as the setup man.

Golloway was hired away from Oklahoma.

“We’re going to try and get control, we’re going to bunt the baseball, we’re going to manufacture runs, and we’ve got the lead in the fifth or sixth inning, we want to feel like the ballgame is over because we know how to defend and we’ll flat pitch it really well,” Golloway said.

Golloway likes to use his best starting pitcher on Saturday and plans to use left-hander O’Neal in that role this season. As the Saturday starter last year, O’Neal had an 8-4 record and 2.73 ERA.

He won’t decide on the other starters for a couple of weeks, but freshmen Keegan Thompson and Kevin Davis have a good chance of being part of the rotation. Thompson is also likely to start at first base or designated hitter.

Other true freshmen that could win starting positions include second baseman Damon Haecker, outfielder Anfernee Grier and first baseman/designated hitter Daniel Robert.

“Very talented, they’re a really mature group,” Golloway said.

Sophomore Jordan Ebert, who hit .303 as a freshman last year, has moved from second base to the outfield.

Golloway said the Tigers will end every practice with a three-inning sprint game designed to put the players in pressure situations.

“They know that everything they’re gearing up for that day is to be able to compete and showcase what they’re getting better at,” he said. “Identify strengths, identify weaknesses. Let’s keep our strengths strong and let’s go ahead and get better at our weaknesses.”

Auburn opens the season against Indiana Friday, Feb. 14 in the Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte, Fla. The Tigers will play Ohio State Saturday and Connecticut Sunday.

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