Historic College World Series Run Slams to a Halt
BY HARRISON TARR
FOR THE OBSERVER
Throughout the course of the past month, there has been a tangible excitement on the plains of Auburn, Alabama, and within the fan base of the Tiger baseball program. After being picked to finish dead last in the SEC West and miss the conference tournament, Butch Thompson’s squad made one of the more improbable runs to the College World Series in recent memory, a run that will not soon be forgotten within the hearts of those who never gave up hope on a program that was seemingly headed in the wrong direction.
After asserting their dominance in the regional round, downing the No. 3 Oregon State Beavers in Corvallis and defeating No. 2 Stanford in a CWS elimination game, Thompson and company saw their Cinderella story draw to its conclusion in the second round of Omaha at the hands of Arkansas in a contest which was defined by a long strand of unfortunate events for the orange and blue.
From the first inning, it was apparent that Tuesday evening was destined to go in the Hogs’ favor; the Tiger pitching, defense and base running was seemingly nonexistent. Unfortunately, that kind of poor showing will likely leave a bitter taste in the mouths of all parties involved with the program.
The demoralizing loss should not, however, define the way the 2022 Auburn baseball team should be regarded going forward.
Instead of hanging their heads about the way the Tigers went out, supporters should consider just how far this team has come.
Is this ideology cliché? Absolutely. But the reality of the matter is, no amount of frustration can alter the outcome.
Tiger fans need not to look back very far to recollect a time where this same group found new ways to blow leads every day, couldn’t piece together a consistent starting rotation or bullpen and lacked a clear offensive leader in the lineup. 2022 was a completely different story.
Graduate transfer Sonny DiChiara provided a renewed spark, both at the plate and in the dugout. His production on offense has only been resembled by Frank Thomas; opposing pitchers feared him, his teammates fed off of his energy and fans had the privilege of clapping along to “Che La Luna” every time he stepped up to bat at Plainsman Park.
The best part? DiChiara has the option to represent Auburn again in 2023 should he decide to do so.
As for the pitching rotation, Tim Hudson’s group made remarkable strides. Joseph Gonzalez molded himself into a highly-regarded ace, Hayden Mullins came into form and Trace Bright posted an Auburn CWS record eight strikeouts in a bounce back appearance in Omaha.
It’s likely that all three will return to the squad in 2023.
Despite much-needed improvement all-around, no feat was more impressive than the development of the Tiger bullpen. After blowing a slew of leads just a season ago, this group absolutely locked in for the duration of this year’s campaign. Carson Swilling was a reliable long-relief option, freshman Jon Armstrong showed remarkable guts and composure and the efforts of Carson Skipper were nothing short of impressive in Omaha.
Then there was Blake Burkhalter, the standout closer who provided fans with an alleviation of stress in late-inning close games and who was seemingly unbothered regardless of a situations severity all year.
More importantly than any specific accolade, Thompson’s squad provided an intangible quality that is likely the only reason they found themselves in Omaha in the first place.
The 2022 Auburn Tigers didn’t care what anyone thought.
Before the season started, experts had doubts and fans had mere hope. The Tigers had confidence. Sometimes, that’s what matters more than anything.
Auburn has now been to Omaha twice in three years. 2022 wasn’t the year. The Tigers’ time is coming.