Feb. 7, 2014
Senior Dillon Ortman says the atmosphere around Auburn baseball has improved dramatically under first-year coach Sunny Golloway (Anthony Hall photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. - Through a summer in Cape Cod, through the fall and through preseason practice, senior Auburn right-hander Dillon Ortman quietly made his case. And it paid off.
Ortman, who has been a closer, a starter and a middle reliever in his Auburn career, will start the season-opener when the Tigers play Indiana State next Friday in the Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte, Fla.
First-year Auburn coach Sunny Golloway said Ortman earned it on the field.
"He's performed as well as anybody," Golloway said. "He's been consistent. We continue to preach to our players to come out and work hard at practice, be fundamentally sound and do what we ask you to do. Dillon Ortman has done all of the above, so why not Dillon Ortman?
"I think it sends a message to everybody in our clubhouse that if you do the things the coaches ask you to do and you perform at a high level and deserve to play, you are going to play."
Ortman, from Grissom High School in Huntsville, was Auburn's closer for most of his freshman season in 2011, going 2-1 with four saves and a 4.65 ERA. Over the next two seasons, he pitched mostly in midweek games, going 1-1 in 2012 with one start and 2-1 in 2013 with four starts.
"I wasn't so much surprised as I was excited," Ortman said. "I know I worked hard this summer up in the Cape Cod League. I threw a good amount of innings this fall. I feel good about where I am right now, and I think Coach Golloway agrees.
"I've been up and down. One of my goals this year is just to stay consistent."
Pitching coach Scott Foxhall, who recruited Ortman out of high school, says he has made significant progress since last season.
"He's had more of a sense of urgency," Foxhall said. "He has some good numbers in the Cape this summer. He's pitched with a little chip on his shoulder."
Ortman's ability to throw three pitches for strikes and to work both sides of the plate helped propel him into the opening-day start.
"He's one of those guys when, as a coach, if you call away it is going go to be away or he is going to miss away," Foxhall said. "He doesn't miss over the middle of the plate most of the time. We just feel good about his overall command with three different pitches."
Golloway was named Auburn's head coach last June, replacing John Pawlowski. He quickly went about changing the mindset of the program. He preached aggressiveness, toughness and confidence. And his players eagerly bought in.
"It's very different, very different in a good way," Ortman said. "This is going to be an exciting year. I think Coach Golloway has us all on the right track."
Senior Michael O'Neal, who won eight games as a Saturday starter last season, will start Saturday's game against Ohio State. Highly touted freshman Keegan Thompson will start on Sunday. He will start at first base on Friday and Saturday.
"Keegan is special," Golloway said, "even in the way he runs the bases. His instincts are extremely good. He's studied the game. He's been taught the game. He plays it extremely well. He's about as good a freshman as I've seen as far as being ready to step in a do a couple of things."
Foxhall says O'Neal is doing the things he's done since he arrived last season as a transfer from Georgia Tech.
"He's Mr. consistency. He's the guy that you know what you are going to get every time he goes out there. When he doesn't have his best stuff, he knows how to win. When he does have his best stuff, he's really hard to beat."
Senior Terrance Dedrick will be the closer for the second straight season and junior Trey Cochran-Gill will be the setup man. Sophomore Justin Camp will start the home opener against Alabama State on Feb. 19.
Auburn will have scrimmages today, Saturday and Sunday at Plainsman Park. All are scheduled for 1 p.m. and open to the public.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: