It’s been a difficult year for the Auburn baseball team in more ways than one.
I’ve already talked about (probably too often) the myriad injuries that have besieged the Tigers this season in the pitching staff. They also have not come remotely close to living up to expectation at the plate. Quite frankly, it seemed like the entire roster was in a slump for most of the season.
The SEC tournament ended in about as dubious a fashion as I have ever seen with the tying and winning runs scoring on a single wild pitch amid a comedy of errors. Then, of course, the entire AU athletic family was dealt a crushing blow with the passing of Rod and Paula Bramblett. Even with all the struggles, the Tigers played their way into a No. 2 seed at the Atlanta Regional in the NCAA tournament.
Georgia Tech had a very impressive 2019 season finishing 41-18 and garnering the No. 3 national seed in the NCAA Tournament. It made a trip to Plainsman Park back on April 2 and defeated the Tigers, 9-3. The Yellow Jackets also hosted the Tigers on April 16, again, defeating them 11-6.
However, as the old saying goes, that was then and this is now. Auburn’s bats came alive over the weekend with timely hitting and some much-needed power, scoring 26 runs in three games. The Tigers also got some brilliant pitching performances from freshman Richard Fitts and redshirt-sophomore Bailey Horn.
The biggest difference between good teams and really good teams is consistency. The Tigers have shown throughout the year in brief flashes they have the talent and capability to make a run to Omaha. Can they be consistent on the mound and at the plate? It’s an easy question to ask, but much more difficult to answer.
Steven Williams had a fabulous freshman year, hitting .291 with 12 home runs and 51 RBIs. He was expected to do even greater things in 2019 but struggled for most of the regular season. Williams had six hits over the weekend including a game-winning three-run walk-off home run against Georgia Tech that will be remembered forever in the annals of Auburn history.
The Tigers put together the most complete performance of any three-game stretch this season in Atlanta and it could not have come at a better time.
In the 11 years from 1993 to 2003, Auburn was in the NCAA tournament 10 times (1996 was the only outlier). In the 12 years from 2004 to 2015, Auburn was in the NCAA tournament only three times (’05, ’10, ’15). Butch Thompson was hired in 2016 and the Tigers have now been in the NCAA tournament for three straight years (’17, ’18, ’19).
The NCAA moved to a “Super Regional” format in the second round of the tournament in 1999. Auburn appeared in one Super Regional (’99) from 1999 to 2017. Butch Thompson has now taken the Tigers to back-to-back Super Regional appearances for the first time in program history.
I realize that’s a lot of numbers to digest, but here’s the bottom line.
Butch Thompson is the best baseball coach Auburn has had in a long time. The Tigers will take on North Carolina in Chapel Hill beginning Saturday in a best two out of three series. The winner goes to the World Series.
It’ll be a challenge, but suddenly Auburn looks like a team on a mission.