Barbecue is Butch Thompson’s worst fear right now.
Before the College World Series, the Auburn baseball coach was adamant that just being here was not enough. Not this time. Not after Auburn’s 2019 run ended with two consecutive losses in Omaha, Nebraska.
In what has turned out to be a pleasantly surprising and wholly satisfying season for Auburn fans, Thompson has always aimed high.
He didn’t want “two and a barbecue” again.
There’s no shame in the potential ending Auburn (42-21) faces Monday (1 pm CT, ESPN) against Stanford after a 5-1 loss to Ole Miss on Saturday, but the idea of history repeating itself casts the dark shadow.
And what a fitting opponent for the topic of history. It will be Auburn’s 15th College World Series game, and the fifth against Stanford. The Cardinal have won all four so far.
“We’ll be able to meet as a staff, get into the guys, present something before practice, have a practice,” Thompson said Saturday night. “Change your laundry out, get together, have another meal together and then start charting on who’s the starting pitcher; what are the relief pieces that we expect to see. And really get into a scouting report.”
Thompson doesn’t know much about Stanford (47-17) yet. What he does know is that Stanford is intimidating because of its offense. The Cardinal lineup alone is worth all that attention and preparation, especially considering Auburn could have Trace Bright on the mound searching for new confidence after a first-inning exit in his last start.
But in order for history to not repeat itself, that is not what needs the most attention.
Auburn’s streaky lineup has descended into another valley, and Bright won’t matter if the bats don’t awaken.
GAME 1 TAKEAWAYS:Auburn baseball faces elimination, Stanford in College World Series after quieted by Ole Miss
AUBURN PITCHING COACH:Auburn baseball’s 1997 CWS memories: Tim Hudson’s bad haircut and his greatest college game
“That’s three games in a row where we just haven’t (hit),” Thompson said after the Ole Miss loss, pointing out that Auburn only had three hits in its decisive win against Oregon State.
In that three-game stretch, Auburn has 12 hits. One every two innings.
In that three game stretch, Auburn has drawn four walks.
In that three-game stretch, Auburn has had three leadoff batters reach base.
In that three-game stretch, Auburn is 6-for-25 when runners are on base.
“I do think it’s wide open. I think every team here had to climb some type of mountain and have success to get here. I also think it’s one of the best years that I can remember in college baseball,” Thompson said. “Logically, you feel like most every team out here has a chance, and it’s whoever kind of catches fire.”
Auburn caught fire during the regional in which it outscored opponents by 33 runs. Stellar opposing pitching and Omaha’s inward winds Saturday have contributed to the fire being extinguished.
Slumps happen. A few of the Tigers’ most important leaders have fallen into them at the wrong time. Senior Kason Howell is 0-for-14 in the last five games. Leadoff man Blake Rambusch, once a .356 hitter, is now 1-for-21 since the first game of the NCAA Tournament. In the No. 2 hole, Cole Foster is 4-for-21 since that game, and he left Saturday because of illness in the fifth inning. Those two guys set the tone for Sonny DiChiara.
“We’ve battled back a lot,” cleanup hitter Bobby Peirce said. “One loss isn’t going to kill us.”
“Today wasn’t really a true testimony to who we are,” senior Carson Skipper added. “Monday is going to be a different story.”
There’s reason to trust them. Auburn is 16-4 in games after a loss this season. There’s recent history that supports the Tigers’ case.
But finding that elusive win in Omaha requires fighting against three-year-old history.