AUBURN, Ala. – It’s about starting off right and never looking back. It’s about limitless hope for a great spring ahead. It’s about fresh faces earning the respect of established veterans, right from the first pitch.
It’s Opening Day, and for their first acts in an Auburn uniform, Damek Tomscha, Jackson Burgreen and Sam Gillikin made big moves to please their new teammates and anxious fan base.
Tomscha’s walk-off solo home run was the exclamation point on Auburn’s come-from-behind 3-2 season-starting victory Friday over Maine, pleasing the near-capacity crowd of 4,021 fans at Plainsman Park.
Tomscha led off the bottom of the ninth working the count in his favor, and smoked reliever Shaun Coughlin’s delivery on a frozen rope over the Green Monster, tucked just inside the left-field foul pole.
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“That was pretty special,” Tomscha said, grinning ear to ear. “Home runs are mistakes, and that’s kind of what happened. 3-1 count, so I kind of figured he was going to throw me a fastball, and he ended up throwing it high and inside.”
Tomscha got the start at third base and in the No. 5 spot in the lineup behind Ryan Tella and Garrett Cooper. A junior in eligibility, he excelled the past two years at Iowa Western Community College outside Omaha, the site of the College World Series.
He hit 30 home runs in two seasons as an NJCAA All-American with the highly-successful Reivers.
The game-winning blast was Auburn’s 21st since the statistic began being kept in 1979, and fourth on Opening Day.
While Tomscha has already logged some years at the post-high school level, a couple of freshmen were also key to Auburn’s third consecutive Opening Day win.
Burgreen, playing left field and batting leadoff in place of the suspended Cullen Wacker, lashed out a double in his first career at-bat, and later doubled to start a sixth-inning rally, scoring to tie the game at 1 on Cooper’s two-bagger.
“(Volunteer assistant) coach (Gabe) Gross has told us the whole time, you can be a freshman in the dugout before the game,” Burgreen said. “But when we step in between the lines, you’ve got to act like you know what you’re doing.”
Cooper promptly gave the Tigers (1-0) a lead on Tomscha’s single, after a close pickoff attempt had the Black Bears thinking Cooper should have been called out.
In the top of the fifth, Maine (0-1) threatened to blow open its lead of 1-0. With two out and two on, cleanup hitter Scott Heath lofted a deep fly to right-center – which Gilliken timed perfectly to rob Heath of a 3-run homer.
“Sam Gilliken climbed the wall there and made a tremendous (catch) – what an athletic play,” Auburn head coach John Pawlowski said. “What a hard-fought game. We had some good fortune today.”
Left-handed starting pitcher Daniel Koger labored through five innings, allowing three hits and one unearned run. Four Auburn relievers combined for six strikeouts, and Terrance Dedrick struck out Maine’s Eric White to finish off the ninth and garner the pitching victory.
The Tigers squandered one base runner in each of the first four frames – two runners caught stealing, one pickoff and one double play.
Auburn and Maine continue their four-game series with Saturday’s doubleheader, expected to be greeted by snow flurries. Game one begins at 4 p.m. ET, and Pacelli and Chattahoochee Valley CC graduate Michael O’Neal has been tabbed to make his starting pitching debut in the nightcap.