The Auburn baseball program recorded their first win at the College World Series since 1997. It was only the program’s fourth all-time win in Omaha.
And after losing the previous four meetings to Stanford at the College World Series, Auburn finally broke that streak with the 6-2 elimination-game win.
All in all, Auburn coach Butch Thompson knows the importance of that comeback win on Monday afternoon.
“Our program winning a game here against an amazing team — I’ve embraced every one of these teams we’ve played. It even gets me in trouble sometimes. The opportunity to compete against that program is a box I get to check, personally. It’s not just a win, it’s important for us as we continue to build our program, build a brand of sincere respectability with our program,” Thompson said.
He’s right. Optics do matter.
Auburn was on the brink of going 0-4 in Thompson’s first four games in Omaha as Auburn’s head coach, and it looked even worse due to the offensive struggles. Auburn only scored three runs in each of the CWS games in 2019, then came back with one run on Saturday night, and was sitting there with no runs in the sixth inning against Stanford.
The final four innings looked like a different Auburn team than we’d seen in quite a few games. We’ll see if winning a game and releasing some pressure helps as the Tigers will face another elimination game on Tuesday night against either Ole Miss or Arkansas.
Resetting the team mindset
The last three teams to lose the first game of the College World Series and go on to win a national title were Oregon State (twice) and South Carolina. So, what did Thompson do on Sunday night?
He called Pat Casey and Ray Tanner – the head coaches of both of those programs at the time. Thompson said both coaches gave him “paragraphs” of information, loving talking about how they led their teams back from the brink of elimination.
What did Thompson derive from the conversations?
“The team that will never quit, they have a chance,” Thompson said. “I just want us to fight and attack, and that’s all you can ask for. It was like those men were excited to hear from me. This became our focus. I’m thankful for today and excited about tomorrow.”
That’s fascinating, and the sign of a great coach in Thompson. He reaches out to his peers, gets some advice, and applies it to his team. The result was an elimination-saving performance and living to fight another day.
‘Goofy’ baseball pays off for Auburn
And what about that disastrous, or what appeared to be, fifth inning? Thompson had an amazing comment about that. Auburn was trying to get on the scoreboard when they committed two big blunders:
First, Kason Howell bunted right back to the pitcher with no outs and men on first and second. The Stanford pitcher, Quinn Matthews, was able to throw the runner out at third, negating the sacrifice attempt. When Nate LaRue followed that with a fly out to right, Auburn wasn’t able to tag up and score from third because of the mistake.
Second, with two outs, the Tigers attempted a double steal. Howell took off to second and forced a throw down, but Cole Foster broke too late from third and the throw down to second was cut off and redirected home. Foster had to put on the brakes and run back to third, where he was tagged out in the base paths before he ever reached the base.
It looked like a disaster. Comments on social media were not kind to Auburn about what had just transpired on the baseball field. It looked sloppy and amateur, to be honest.
But, Thompson had a completely different take afterwards. Thompson actually said the two plays made him “happy.”
“We’re just at a stage, we traveled a bunch. 5,000 miles — quick turnaround, and I wanted to get our feet underneath us. If we leave here, my job is the keep the players and coaches leaving with no regrets,” Thompson said. “What’s the worst we’re going to do, make a mistake? I want them to attack as much as they can. I want them to go out that way, and I don’t want to sit there for nine innings and have at bats. I’m trying to make a deal of that. I asked for that. I think the fifth inning led to a chance in the sixth.”
Thompson called it “goofy” baseball, and credited that series of mistakes for waking his team up and leading to the runs in the sixth and seventh innings.
The bottom line was that Thompson simply wanted to shake things out, regardless of the outcome. Sure, he would have loved better execution, but the simple acts of aggression were enough to make him smile.
That’s interesting perspective and given the result of the game, it’s hard to argue with him. Auburn was a different team the final four innings than the previous 14 innings of College World Series play.