MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Auburn Tigers have ridden two dominant starters and a junior college transfer into Southeastern Conference contention a year after failing to even make the league tournament.
The Tigers (32-14, 14-7) enter this weekend’s series against rival Alabama ranked in the top 5 and locked in a three-way tie for the SEC’s overall lead with Kentucky and Mississippi State.
It’s unfamiliar territory for a team that has posted six straight losing SEC marks and was picked to finish last in the Western Division, along with the Crimson Tide.
“We realize how long it’s been for our program,” second-year Auburn coach Butch Thompson said. “I can just feel the desire of everybody being re-energized, which I’m thankful to see. But we’ve got so much baseball left, we’ve just got to keep pushing.”
Leading the way: Centerfielder Jonah Todd and starting pitchers Casey Mize, who’s 6-1 with a league-leading 1.23 earned run average, and Keegan Thompson (5-2, 2.05).
Keegan Thompson came back strong after redshirting last season following Tommy John surgery, opening with 23-2/3 scoreless innings.
Todd, who arrived from Marion Military Institute, is second in the SEC with a .396 batting average. No other Auburn player ranks in the Top 40 or is batting .300.
The results have, so far, been Auburn’s best season in years. The No. 4 ranking by Baseball America is the program’s highest since 1999.
The Tigers haven’t seen much sustained success since Hal Baird stepped down in 2000 after making two College World Series appearances. Thompson is the fifth coach since then. Auburn has made only one NCAA regional since 2010 and hasn’t been to a super regional since 1999.
This team got off an early jolt of confidence after opening league play with a series sweep of Florida.
“I think after the Florida series, everybody started believing that we were good,” Keegan Thompson said. “We kind of believed in ourselves and we started…