A huge moment for Auburn’: Tigers return to College World Series

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OMAHA, Neb, (AUBURN ATHLETICS) — Back in the College World Series for the first time since 1997, the Auburn Tigers have already packed a week’s worth of activities into their first three days in Omaha.

Practices, press conferences, photo shoots. A Major League Baseball game. All setting the stage for Friday’s opening ceremonies, when each of the eight super regional champions took a victory lap around TD Ameritrade Park.

For Auburn, there’s still one more day of anticipation before the Tigers meet SEC West rival Mississippi State Sunday at 6:30 p.m. CT.

“On behalf of our 51 guys that have gone on to play in the major leagues and everybody that’s put our uniform on, and that’s coached it to try to make it better or put an effort into playing, and every fan that has invested and supported us, this is for you,” Auburn coach Butch Thompson said in his opening remarks in Friday’s coaches press conference.

Thompson recalled Auburn’s path to the postseason, overcoming injuries and slumps to emerge victorious from the Atlanta Regional and Chapel Hill Super Regional, winning five games away from Plainsman Park.

“We took a different road to get here,” he said. “A tough journey, but a rewarding one for sure. We’ve had moments of adversity both on and off the field, but the journey has been sweeter. This is a huge moment for Auburn.”

At the other end of the dais, Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin compared the 2019 Tigers to the 2014 Commodores club he led to the national title.

“When I look at Butch’s team, we’re similar to them in a lot of ways,” Corbin said. “In 2014 we experienced a lot of ups and downs. At the end of it, it hardened us. I think if you can survive the regular season and survive the tournament and then get into the postseason, then it’s like new life.”

Auburn is making the most of its new life.

Before the 13-run first inning at North Carolina, before Steven Williams’ walk-off homer at Georgia Tech, the Tigers endured a 10-week gauntlet of Southeastern Conference competition, a stretch that resulted in Auburn’s No. 1 strength of schedule.

“We had to make the trips that put us in some compromising positions,” Thompson said. “Sometimes we got our heart broke, and sometimes we found a way to squeak one out. That is just great preparation to make a run.”

Then came the indignity of exiting the SEC Tournament on a play that went viral for all the wrong reasons, from Auburn’s perspective, a defeat that further toughened the Tigers.

“In the last three weeks, we’ve lost a ballgame on a wild pitch/passed ball where two runners scored,” he said. “When you can get a group of guys to not be scared to lay it all out there, to just, ‘Let’s hook it up and let’s go.’

“If we’re not scared to compete, if we’re not scared of the outcome, we might be right there sitting for a special moment.”

PITCHING MATCHUP

Auburn So. LHP Jack Owen (4-2, 2.83) vs. Mississippi State R-Jr. Ethan Small (10-2, 1.76)

QUICK HITTERS

Auburn’s appearance in the College World Series is the program’s fifth all-time and its first since 1997. The Tigers also advanced to Omaha in 1967, 1976 and 1994.

The Tigers are 5-1 in the NCAA Tournament this season and have outscored their opponents 51-29 while hitting .314 as a team in the tournament. Entering the tournament, the team had scored 42 runs in its previous 11 games.

Auburn became the first team to defeat North Carolina in a Chapel Hill Super Regional. The Tar Heels had won each of the previous six super regionals they had hosted.

The Tigers are 11-5 in the NCAA Tournament under head coach Butch Thompson and have advanced to the tournament in three straight seasons for the first time since 2001-03.

Auburn has won 37+ games in three straight seasons for the first time since 1999-2001. The team’s 118 wins in the last three seasons are the most since winning 124 during the same time frame.

Auburn is the fourth athletic program all-time to win a bowl game and advance to both the Final Four and College World Series in the same season. The other programs include Kansas (1992-93), Texas (2002-03) and Louisville (2012-13).

SCOUTING THE BULLDOGS

Mississippi State enters the College World Series with the third most wins (51) and fourth highest winning percentage (.797) in the country this season.

The Bulldogs are hitting .317 as a team this season, which ranks fifth in the country and second in the SEC. The team also leads the country in doubles (160), ranks second in hits (726) and fifth in runs (519).

On the mound, Mississippi State 3.48 staff ERA, which is good for 12th best in the nation. The Bulldogs also boast the third best strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.16) and have the fourth most strikeouts per nine innings (10.8), led by Ethan Small’s national best 168 strikeouts.

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