Newcomers shine in Auburn's season-opening sweep of Maine

Damek Tomscha had a solid debut series at third base. - Anthony Hall

A few freshmen and JUCO transfers showed plenty of potential in four games against the Black Bears.

Auburn opened its 2013 campaign with as much success as anyone could have hoped, sweeping a four-game series from the Maine Black Bears. A major factor in the Tigers' 4-0 start was the play of several new faces in orange and blue.

With the loss of such key contributors as Jay Gonzalez, Zach Alvord and Creede Simpson from the lineup, how well the new blood is able to step up and make an impact will go a long way toward determining how much success Auburn has in 2013. Yes, the Tigers brought back Garrett Cooper, Ryan Tella, Cullen Wacker, Dan Glevenyak and Blake Austin, but there were definitely question marks in the lineup going into the season. If the first weekend is any indication, Auburn fans won't have to worry about the lineup this year.

Jackson Burgreen, LF (Frosh.) 6-17, 6 R, 3 2B, 1 RBI
Sam Gillikin, RF (Frosh.) 4-14, 3 R, 1 RBI, 1 2B
Damek Tomscha, 3B (JUCO) 4-13, 4 RBIs, 2 R, 2 2B, 1 HR
Jordan Ebert, 2B (Frosh.) 3-8, 2 RBIs, 1 R

Jackson Burgreen may be the biggest revelation to come out of the opening series against Maine. He was in competition for the left field spot during the offseason, but he likely only saw playing time on Opening Day due to issues with Wacker. Auburn's normal starting left fielder is still recovering from a strained knee, and on top of that, he managed to get suspended for the first game of the season -- it wasn't the first time Wacker's been in head coach John Pawlowski's doghouse. So with a vacancy in left field, Burgreen was given an opportunity, and he made the most of it.

Burgreen, slotted at the top of the order, did exactly what a leadoff hitter is supposed to do: He set the table for the rest of the lineup by getting on base. Burgreen compiled six hits and two walks in the series, and he reached base at least twice in each game. As a result, he scored six runs over four games. He also managed to hit three doubles, showing that he isn't just a slap-hitter that just tries to run out infield hits -- although, he has plenty of speed to do that. In addition to his solid weekend at the plate, Burgreen played well in the field, getting through the series without a mistake and making a couple of nice catches. After returning from his suspension, Wacker took over the designated hitter spot in Games 2, 3 and 4, leaving Burgreen in left. It's probably safe to say that Burgreen has won that job for the foreseeable future.

Damek Tomscha provided the highlight of the weekend, hitting a walk-off home run in the on Opening Day. Tomscha finished the series with four hits in 13 at-bats, four RBIs, two runs and three extra-base hits (two doubles to go with the homer). Arriving at Auburn with JUCO experience and a formidable 6'2, 220-pound frame, Tomscha was an immediate candidate to inject a power bat into the Tigers' lineup. He did account for two errors at third base, which must be addressed, but at least for one series, his hitting made up for the defensive mistakes. There's a lot of baseball to be played in 2013, but if his first four games are any indication, Tomscha looks like he'll meet Auburn fans' expectations.

In right field, Sam Gillikin filled in admirably for Gonzalez, who was suspended for the entire season back in September. Gillikin played well in the field, Like Tomscha, Gillikin's finest moment came Friday night. With two on, two out and the Tigers trailing, 1-0, in the fifth, Gillikin drifted back and made a leaping catch at the wall to rob Maine's Scott Heath of at least a two-run double and possibly a three-run homer. In a tight game, that defensive play was crucial. At the plate, Gillikin picked up a hit in each game, going 4-for-14 with three runs scored, an RBI and a double.

Jordan Ebert split time at second base with Tanner Cimo, playing the first game of Saturday's doubleheader and the finale on Sunday, and he outplayed his sophomore teammate in the field and batter's box. Cimo committed one error, while Ebert's defense was flawless, and at the plate, Ebert was much better. The freshman was 3-for-8 with one walk, and he had a two-RBI single and a run scored on Sunday. Cimo was 0-for-5 with one RBI, one run and one free pass in his two starts. The pair will likely continue to split time in the near future, but if Ebert keeps it up, he'll receive more and more playing time.

Of course, it wasn't just at the plate and out in the field where Auburn saw great impact from new players. On the mound, four pitchers impressed in their debut series for the Tigers.

Michael O'Neal SP (JUCO) 5 2/3 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 3 K, 0 BB, 1 W
Terrance Dedrick, RP (JUCO) 1 1/3 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 3 K, 0 BB, 1 W, 1 SV
Justin Camp, RP (RS Frosh.) 4 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 2 K, 0 BB, 1 W
Conner Kendrick RP (JUCO) 3 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 5 K, 0 BB

Michael O'Neal made his Auburn debut by earning the start in Game 2 of Saturday's doubleheader, and he didn't disappoint. O'Neal's pitches were lively, and he showed good control, never giving the Black Bears a baserunner via base on balls. He showed the ability to work his way out of a jam, as Maine scored just one run in the top of the third despite three hits and an Auburn error. (Although, O'Neal was aided by an outfield assist from Tella.) All in all, it was a solid debut, and it will certainly put O'Neal in the running for one of the weekend rotation spots going forward.

Terrance Dedrick, a JUCO transfer from Tuscaloosa, of all places, came out of the bullpen Friday night and in Game 2 Saturday, and he proved why we tabbed him as the favorite to win the closing job before the season started. Dedrick showed a funky windup, completely turning his back to the batter before delivering to the plate, and was pretty much untouchable. Dedrick faced one batter in the top of the ninth Friday, and he picked up a strikeout -- and thanks to Tomscha's homer, a win. On Saturday, he came on in the ninth and recorded three straight outs, including two on strikes, to earn the save.

Justin Camp took the mound to relieve Rocky McCord in Game 1 Saturday, providing a good stuff in long relief. Camp pitched four innings, and while he allowed four hits, he didn't give up a walk. He allowed just one run and claimed the win.

Like Dedrick, Conner Kendrick made two appearances over the weekend. He pitched two innings Friday and one inning in the later game Saturday. When it was all said and done, Kendrick allowed two hits and one walk, and he kept Maine off the scoreboard. He also recorded an impressive five strikeouts. Considering the fact that Auburn's defense still needs some work -- eight errors in four games -- Kendrick keeping hitters from putting the ball in play is an added bonus.

Add it all up, and these eight players posted some fine numbers. The four position players combined to go 17-for-52 (a .327 average) with 12 runs, eight RBIs, and seven extra-base hits. The four pitchers threw 14 innings with a 1.93 ERA and a 0.86 WHIP (12 hits and an astounding zero walks). They struck out 13 and accounted for three wins and one save. Not too shabby at all.

Sure, Auburn's first opponent of the year wasn't a juggernaut, and some of these newcomers will assuredly face adversity as the season goes on. But one of Auburn's biggest questions coming into the season was "How will the freshman and transfers contribute in a meaningful way, if at all?" After four games, several have stepped up and announced their presence. If the good play from this group continues, the Tigers should find themselves in postseason contention by the time May rolls around.

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