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Auburn Baseball Starts Season With Visions of Omaha

By on February 20th, 2018 in Baseball, News 4 Comments »

All-American Casey Mize is one of six players nationally to be named to the 2017 Golden Spikes Award Watch List. The junior pitched six shutout innings in Auburn's opener. (photo: USA TODAY Sports)

The 2017 Auburn baseball team surprised a lot of people. Picked in the preseason to finish last in the SEC West, the Tigers played most of the season at the top of the league until injuries slowed down their momentum.

No one expected Auburn to finish any higher than last place in the league, yet the Tigers came within one strike of playing in their first Super Regional since 1999. Butch Thompson’s experience in taking teams to the postseason was a big factor in Auburn getting there and finishing with 37 wins despite going through six weeks  at the end of the year without pitchers  Casey Mize or (a healthy) Keegan Thompson.

Even so, Auburn earned a berth in the Tallahassee Regional. And it looked for awhile as if the Tigers might be playing in their first Super Regional in 18 years. That dream ended in game two of the Regional Championship round against Florida State.

The Tigers had a couple of opportunities to win the championship in the ninth and tenth innings of the first best-of-two-game championship finals. However, cruel fate and a field umpire’s bad call on a double play intervened to prevent that from happening.

That loss put the Tigers in a precarious position. Auburn’s best chance to make it to the next level was to win it in three games. With Mize, Cole Lipscomb, and Keegan Thompson unable to pitch, the Tiger bats had to produce. That didn’t happen as Auburn was baffled by the junk-throwing Will Zirzow, and the season ended at Dick Howser Stadium. The Seminoles went on to play in the College World Series.

The closeness of Auburn’s making it to the College World Series left the Tigers disappointed but motivated to make 2018 “the” year. There are 17 players back from that team, and they are determined to build on last year and maybe lead the 18 new players to Omaha.

Two positives that could help the Tigers reach their goal this season are the return of All-American Casey Mize and the hiring of former Major Leaguer Gabe Gross as the Tigers’ hitting coach. Gross is one of the greatest players in the history of Auburn baseball. The first round draft pick was a three-year starter for Auburn from 1999–2001, a two time All-SEC outfielder, and a first-team All American in 2000 when he led the Southeastern Conference in hitting with a .430 batting average.

Those reasons coupled with last year’s success should help the Tigers reach the next level in 2018. Thompson said last season, his vision of the next level is the College World Series. This year the third-year head coach said,  “As heart breaking as it was not to acquire one more positive pitch in a regional last year … I do believe that vision changed to something tangible. We can see it and taste it and touch it and believe in it.”

The Tigers opened the 2018 season over the weekend on fire, bombing the Longwood Lancers with 34 runs while allowing only one run in three games. Casey Mize pitched six shutout innings and struck out seven to earn the win in the season opener. Granted, Longwood is far from SEC-caliber competition. Nevertheless, it was a great start for the Tigers in their quest to get to Omaha.

Editor’s note:
Auburn (3–0) hosts Georgia State (2–1) and Troy (4–0) on Tuesday and Wednesday in 4:00 p.m. games at Plainsman Park. The Georgia State game will be broadcast on SEC Network+.

4 Comments

  1. Acid Reign Acid Reign says:

    …..It is that time of year, to be sure. Yesterday evening when I got off work, it was shirtsleeve-warm weather, and as I walked to my car, I could hear the “tink!” of aluminum bats from the neighboring ball fields!

  2. GreenvilleAUfan GreenvilleAUfan says:

    So glad to have Auburn baseball back. Looking forward to the Tigers having a great year and getting back to the post season. Good article ATM.

  3. Tigerpharm says:

    AU batted .356 for the 3 game series. Hope that’s indication of Gabe Gross impact on the offense more than the level of competition. We had good pitching last year but as you point out ATM, whenever the Aces were not in the game the Tigers struggled. Got to have offense to go along with pitching to make it to post season. Good read. Now let’s see Tigers beat GSU & Troy too. WDE!

  4. hello2196 says:

    Exciting ending to Tuesday’s game coming from behind to win with Ventor’s walkoff single.

    Looking for AU to be 5-0 after today’s game. Wish it was on TV.