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Auburn turns to its ace

AUBURN, Ala. -- After winning the season-opener Friday, Sunny Golloway will turn to his ace Saturday against Ohio State.

O'Neal is one of five Auburn team captains.

Senior left-hander Michael O’Neal will take the mound for the Tigers in a familiar role. As Auburn’s Saturday starter last season, O’Neal was 8-4 with a 2.73 ERA.

It’s a perfect situation for Golloway, who prefers to throw his No. 1 starter on Saturday.

“Michael O’Neal is really special and he’s going to stay right there,” Golloway said. “We’re going to throw him on Saturday. He is probably our most important guy because Saturday, to me, is the most important day.

“He’s just consistent. He doesn’t get too excited, he stays calm.”

O’Neal likes the pressure of pitching on Saturdays, where he’ll be in position to even up a series after a Friday loss, or win a series after a Friday win.

“(Golloway) told me that it’s all on me. I like that,” O’Neal said. “I pitched good in the SEC last year and felt like I earned it, and I’m working hard to keep it up.

“It’s going to be a good challenge. I’m looking forward to it.”

O’Neal hasn’t rested on his laurels in the offseason. He’s worked hard to improve two of his pitches.

“I threw a lot of fastballs last year and coach Scott Foxhall worked with me a lot on my slider and I’ve got it down pretty good. I’ve also thrown a lot of good changeups this early spring,” he said.

O’Neal said the expectations of this year’s team is completely different under Golloway than it was a year ago.

“Last year, we just wanted to get into the postseason to see what happens This year, we want to get to Omaha,” he said. “You don’t want to be watching people on ESPN in Omaha, you want to be there. You want to be playing. That means a lot to us. We want to be there.

“That’s our team goal, to get to Omaha, and we think we can do it. We feel like we have the talent here, we just have to show it.”

The Buckeyes will start junior left-hander Ryan Riga. He had a 3-0 record and 2.14 ERA in 29 appearances last season mainly out of the bullpen.

First pitch for Saturday’s game in Port Charlotte, Fla., is scheduled for 11 a.m. CT. Auburn beat Indiana State 4-0 Friday behind strong pitching by Dillon Ortman and Justin Camp.

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