Butch Thompson Architect of Auburn Baseball’s Meteoric Rise to Top of SEC
Second-year Auburn coach Butch Thompson has led the Tigers to first place in the SEC (photo: Auburn Media file)
Looking back at the preseason college baseball rankings, I’m reminded of Mark Twain’s famous quote: “The reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.” Picked to finish last in the SEC West, Auburn baseball now sits atop of the Southeastern Conference.
For the second straight weekend the Tigers beat a team at the top of the league standings. Arkansas and Mississippi State each came into its series with the Tigers sporting the best records in the SEC. But now Auburn sits at the top of the heap having swept the Bulldogs Saturday in a doubleheader, 17–8 and 5–3, in Starkville.
Butch Thompson took over a program that was mired in controversy and obscurity and made it one of the nation’s best in less than two years. And he did it by crafting a team of veterans and talented newcomers. Twenty of the players on the roster are Thompson recruits. And, they are contributing every week.
The MSU series marked the second weekend that Auburn was without sophomore Casey Mize, the SEC’s best pitcher, but freshman Elliott Anderson came on in game two to earn the victory in his SEC debut while Juco transfer Calvin Coker pitched the final 2.1 innings to record the save in game two.
The Tigers were also without starting shortstop and JUCO transfer Luke Jarvis, but it didn’t matter as freshman Will Holland filled the role nicely, recording the last putout of the series. Redshirt freshman outfielder Jeremy Johnson, who here-to-fore had only three game appearances, came off the bench to start all three games in left field and went 3-for-3 at the plate in the final. JUCO transfer Dylan Ingram hit a grand slam in the first game and a two-run homer in the second.
One would think the young guys would be awestruck by playing in big games in front of big crowds. Yet, on Saturday the Tigers defeated the hottest team in the league in front of nearly 10,000 fans at Dudy Noble Field.
No. 5 Auburn (32–14, 14–7) has now won six of seven SEC series. The victory moved Auburn into a tie with No. 8 Miss. State for both the SEC West and overall league lead. But if the season ended today Auburn’s win over the Bulldogs would be the tie breaker. The doubleheader sweep was the first for Auburn in SEC play since taking two from Alabama in 2011.
The enthusiasm this team plays with is reminiscent of the 2010 Tigers that hosted an NCAA Regional. And they are on track to return to the tourney and possibly win a SEC championship. Standing in their way this Friday will be the team that would like nothing better than to derail the Auburn train.
The Tigers will play Bama in a weekend series. Friday’s game will be aired by SEC+ with the first pitch at 6:00 p.m. CT at Plainsman Park. Hope to see you there …