Auburn (42-20) will participate in the College World Series for the sixth time in program history starting on Saturday at 6 pm CT against Ole Miss (37-22) in Omaha at Charles Schwab Field on ESPN 2.
The Tigers clinched the second CWS in the three years under seven-year coach Butch Thompson with a 2-1 series win in the Corvallis Super Regional.
Beating Oregon State 4-3 on Monday to win the series was historic. Auburn became the first team to beat the Beavers at Goss Stadium in a Super Regional. Auburn was picked last in the SEC West, as head coach Butch Thompson pointed out several times throughout the Tigers’ playoff run.
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Auburn took the chip on its shoulder from the perceived slight into an opportunity for a national championship. Of course, it’s important to remember that Ole Miss, Arkansas, and Texas A&M join the Tigers from the SEC West to make up half of the eight teams in the MCWS.
“They’ve been challenged with low expectations, and it just drove them even more to this point,” Thompson told reporters Thursday after practice. We’re walking in here thinking we’re not done yet. That’s a great feeling for a baseball team. We hope the best is yet to come this week, but we’re sure thankful to be here. This is the pinnacle for us and college baseball. I’m glad the Auburn Tigers are part of this session.”
Let’s take a look at some reasons why Auburn is in the College World Series.
1. Sonny DiChiara choosing Auburn.
DiChiara has 22 home runs, including four in the playoffs. His homer on Monday put the Tigers ahead 2-0 in the eventual 4-3 win to clinch the series. His batting average (.392), on-base percentage (.560), and slugging percentage (.809) are the best in the Southeastern Conference. He’s drawn 68 walks, which leads the nation, and has reached base in 60 of the 62 games he’s played this season.
The Birmingham Native and Samford beats third for the Tigers, making life easier for the hitters in front of him because you don’t want to put them on base with walks. DiChiara’s on-base percentage helps the batters behind him as well. A prime example was his leadoff walk in the sixth inning during Monday’s win.
Auburn scored two runs in the frame and went up 4-1 against Oregon State. Without those runs, the Tigers aren’t in Omaha seeking a title.
Auburn’s bullpen covered 8 2/3 innings during Saturday’s 7-5 win against Oregon State. But, the most important performance was in defeat. Chase Isbell kept the Tigers within striking distance on Sunday with 2 2/3 scoreless innings. Isbell kept the Tigers from having to use closer Blake Burkhalter.
Carson Skipper and Tommy Sheehan are among several Auburn relievers that pitched impactful innings during the Tigers’ run.
The second-SEC team pitcher has 15 saves and 66 strikeouts versus seven walks in 44 innings this season. Burkhalter finished off UCLA in the Auburn Regional with a save. His brightest moment came in the pivotal game on Monday against Oregon State.
The Dothan native had an eight-out save to send Auburn to the College World Series.
4. Clutch Offense.
Auburn is hitting .303 in six tournament games after going .209 and scoring 11 runs in the four games before the playoffs. The Tigers scored 51 runs in three games in the Auburn Regional with wins against Southeastern Louisana, Florida State, and the Bruins. Auburn has 65 runs on 67 hits in their last six games. The Tigers scored four runs on three hits in Monday’s win against the Beavers. It hasn’t mattered if the Tigers crush balls over the fence or have to achieve with baserunning.
Thompson wouldn’t take the credit; however, the Tigers are in their second MCWS appearance and recently went to their third Super Regional in four years. Auburn has elevated as a baseball program during Thompson’s seven-year tenure. Here’s what DiChiara told reporters about Thompson on Thursday in Omaha during a press conference.
“I think it just kind of shows the testament to this man right here, how hard he works every day. How much he enjoys us and how much he just loves investing in us and getting more people to come,” DiChiara said. I didn’t know Coach Thompson that well until I got on campus. So just the way he’s invested in me, I know that’s how every new player is. He just invests in them.
Nubyjas Wilborn covers Auburn for Alabama Media Group.