Auburn could have easily folded the tents and gone home. They had already been embarrassed (and yes, that's probably the best word) by Arizona in the previous two games. Letting single innings explode on them with 8-1 and 15-4 losses. The offense wasn't there. The pitching wasn't around. Nothing was working for Auburn. However, there was still one game left. One more chance to save face and salvage anything from the Tigers first road test of this young season.
Auburn responded and responded well. Behind a dominant performance from a true Freshman, AU held the No. 8 team in the country to three runs and got a very important victory before returning to the Plains. Arizona represented a team that Auburn hopes to become. They have the same offensive philosophy. They have the same issues on defense. The only difference? Arizona has experience. Auburn doesn't. Still, it's good to see (even though you watched as they handed Auburn their own asses) that this system can work. It can put runs on the board. It can be a dynamite style of play.
Now, it's hard to put emphasis or read too much into just one game, but this victory was huge for Auburn for multiple reasons.
For the first time all season, Auburn made significant shakeups to the lineup. Instead of the normal 1-2-3 speed of Andrews/Gonzalez/Tella, Coach John Pawlowski benched the struggling Andrews, moved the hot hitting Creede Simpson to the No. 2 spot, kept Tella in his normal third, and put Cullen Wacker in Andrews's normal spot in left field. Freeing Wacker from the DH spot allowed Kody Ortman to get some significant action at DH.
Ortman is an interesting pickle for Auburn. The Tigers are sorely lacking any type of consistent home run threat and although the sample size is small, Ortman looks like he could emerge as that big bopper that AU needs. Yes, he's only 2 for 7, but those two hits are both home runs and with them, Ortman has more RBIs than all but three Tigers (Cooper, Gonzalez, Simpson). With two midweek games against Alabama State, maybe Ortman can continue to grow and refine his game. Yes, this will bring up another issue of where to actually play him, but we can burn that bridge when we get there. He can (theoretically) play first base, DH, catcher, or possibly left field. However, that would potentially move Wacker (DH), Austin (C), Cooper (1B), out of the lineup -- three of Auburn's most consistent and productive hitters.
The win also answered some questions for Auburn. Blake Austin all but cemented himself as the starting catcher. He's just raking at the plate and hitting a solid .500 and has the better arm behind the plate over Caleb Bowen. Now, keeping him all the way down in the nine hole will probably change very soon, and with it might come more production from the Auburn offense.
Zach Alvord held his own at third base. Honestly, the race between him and Jarred Smith is neck and neck. Kudos to Zach for showing flashes when he got another chance in the field. They have near identical fielding percentages and the only separation right now will be their bats. With two midweek games, it will be interesting to see who gets the nod. Does Palowski let Smith gain some of his confidence back or does he see if Alvord can steadily improve and distinguish himself?
A surprising bright spot for Auburn was the bullpen. Saturday's Game 1 debacle notwithstanding, Auburn got solid outings by Chase Williamson (2 IP/1 ER/2 K) and Justin Bryant (2.2 IP/3 H/1 BB/3 K). Ethan Wallen looked a bit shaky but this was his first appearance of the year. Zach Blatt was well, Zach Blatt. Blatt is going to be a player to watch. I like to think of him as the Harvey Dent of the Auburn pitching staff. You never really know which Blatt you will get: The Bad Blatt who gives up 5 ER in 4.2 IP or the Brilliant Blatt who shuts the door on Mizzou with 1 H/1 ER (a mistake pitch HR) in 2 IP.
Auburn has two midweek tests against Alabama State, but they will tell a lot about Auburn's future plans. We are still waiting for the debuts of some arms like Caleb Smith, Craig Shirley, or Cameron Blinka, and who Pawlowski slots in those midweek tilts could tip his hand to any potential changes to the weekend rotation. Personally, I think it's a bit early, but if Jon Luke Jacobs doesn't start Tuesday or Wednesday, then that probably means that Slade Smith has been bumped out of the rotation.
I'm also going to be interested to see the lineup. Especially when it comes to guys like Kody Ortman, Bobby Andrews, and Zach Alvord. These two games will become almost mini-tests for the Tigers.
The season is still in its infancy and one win doesn't mean Auburn is suddenly a bunch of world beaters. What it does mean is that Auburn can respond and bounce back from adversity. It gives momentum to another big weekend against three different teams. It also instills at least some confidence that Auburn does have the pieces to be successful this season.