This time last week, the Auburn baseball team was dancing its face off after scoring 13 runs in the first inning against North Carolina. The Tigers eventually won the game by the very football score of 14-7, punching their ticket to their first College World Series since 1997. All was well.
On Sunday, the Tiger train kept on rolling in Omaha, where Auburn jumped out to a 4-1 lead on its first opponent, fellow SEC foe Mississippi State. The Tigers scored two runs in the second, one in the fourth and one more in the eighth after the Bulldogs scored their first run in the sixth. Heading into the top of the ninth, with a three-run lead, Auburn was poised to notch it's first win in the CWS in 22 years. I think you know where this is going.
The Bulldogs began the bottom with the ninth with a double, then after recording an out they got a walk to put runners on first and second. Another doubled followed by a fielder's choice quickly made the game 4-3, but with two outs, Auburn was still in the driver's seat. With only a runner on second, the Tigers then got the ground ball to third base they needed. For some reason though, Mississippi State baserunner Elijah MacNamee ran from second to third, crossing paths with Auburn third baseman Edouard Julien. Had Julien just tagged him, the game was over, but he hesitated and decided to throw to first instead. Disaster:
We could debate all day on what the right move, and easiest move, was here for Julien: tag the runner or throw to first. Either way, one of them is going to be a game-ending out, so it's unfair to say "just tag the guy!" when he chose to make a routine throw he's made thousands of times in his life. He just made a bad throw, which may have been because of the distraction MacNamee was in front of him. It clearly screwed with Julien, who took one too many steps as he gathered to throw. Auburn went on to lose 5-4 just three batters later.
Making this play all the more painful was the fact that this is not the first time in the last two months that Auburn has shockingly thrown away a baseball game. Last month, during the SEC Tournament, the Tigers had a game won against LSU, again in the bottom of the ninth. Then this happened:
Of course, Auburn went on to make the College World Series, making this game a distant memory. But still, that's twice the Tigers have completely forgotten how to play baseball in two of the biggest baseball games of their lives. Luckily, the CWS is double elimination, so Auburn isn't done yet. But now another loss ends the Tigers magical run, when a victory over MSU would have put them that much closer to advancing. They'll face Louisville in an elimination game on Tuesday at 2 p.m. in Omaha. Let's hope this doesn't come back to haunt them.