Three plays in three days took Auburn out of the College World Series.
The first, in Game 1 against Mississippi State on Sunday, would’ve advanced the Tigers to the winners bracket. But a throw sailed high to first base for what would have been the final out, and Mississippi State rallied for the win.
The second came in the fourth inning in the rain Tuesday, when second baseman Ryan Bliss bobbled a third out, and two Louisville Cardinals scored to take a 4-1 lead into a rain delay.
The third on Wednesday — after a 20-hour rain delay — came with two outs and the bases loaded in the eighth inning with the Tigers trailing 5-2. Judd Ward, the leadoff batter who’d yet to record a hit in the CWS, battled into a full count.
He whiffed on strike three, his fourth strikeout of the game. Auburn couldn’t get out of its own way.
“Hate that it ends today,” coach Butch Thompson said after the 5-3 loss.
Louisville — helped by two doubles, two RBIs and a home run from designated hitter Conor Davis — will play Mississippi State on Thursday in another elimination game.
“Hard-fought game,” Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said. “Offensively, we’ve put together some rallies. We’re close. We haven’t exploded yet; that’s the exciting thing.”
The Cardinals got on the scoreboard in the first inning with a two-out solo home run from shortstop Tyler Fitzgerald.
Auburn hit back in the bottom of the second when right fielder Drew Campbell misplayed a pop-up, which gave Matt Scheffler a double and moved Edouard Julien to third with one out. A grounder from Kason Howell scored Julien to tie the game 1-1.
An inning later, Campbell made up for the muff by gunning down Will Holland at home to save a run and end the inning.
“I think defense has brought us a long way this year,” Campbell said. “It’s been a huge part of why we are where we are.”
Louisville put two on as the rain came down in the fourth with a single and walk. Auburn starter Bailey Horn was relieved after 3 1⁄3 innings, giving up three hits, four runs, with three strikeouts and three walks. Lefty Elliott Anderson came in and walked his first batter with the bases loaded, giving Louisville the lead for good at 2-1.
Two batters later with two outs, Lucas Dunn slapped a grounder to second base, but Bliss mishandled the ball, then threw wide of the catcher, allowing the runner from second to score for the 4-1 lead.
After a nondescript bottom of the fourth, the tarp came out and stayed.
After a total delay of 20 hours, 11 minutes, play resumed Wednesday morning in the sun.
Richard Fitz took the mound for Auburn and Adam Elliott for Louisville. Both controlled the game, particularly Elliott, who finished his two innings with one hit and one walk.
In the seventh, Davis hit a blooper into center, and Bliss sprinted from first to home to close the gap to 4-2 on an RBI double.
Louisville responded by putting runners on first and third in the eighth. Campbell singled to left and brought in a run to regain the three-run lead.
Auburn loaded the bases with three straight two-out singles in the eighth. Ward then struck out swinging.
“When every inning ends, it hurts me,” Thompson said.
But that one hurt in particular. It deflated the Tigers. Louisville finished it off an inning later.
The celebration on the field, though, was tame from the Cardinals with simple handshakes. McDonnell knows the history. He knows Oregon State won last year after losing a game, and Coastal Carolina before that.
“We’re looking for the next game,” Campbell said. “We’re not done yet.”
Play of the game
Louisville right fielder Drew Campbell gunned down an Auburn runner in the bottom of the third to close out the inning. Campbell no-hopped it to the catcher from right field on a rope. The out saved a run and kept the score 1-1.
Star of the game
Campbell was excellent in right. Not only did he have the throw at home to save a run, but he had multiple diving catches. He also finished 1 for 3 with an RBI.
Auburn first baseman Rankin Woley sprinted into foul territory in the top of the third and slammed into the green wall for a catch. Woley grimaced, attempted to throw out a runner back at first, then went down. Replay showed Woley jammed his knee into the bottom of the wall. Trainers looked at him briefly, and he played on, with a bum knee but a web gem.
No pitcher pitched more than four innings.
Quirky stat II
Auburn outhit Louisville 13-7.
Ryan Bliss’ decision to throw home cost Auburn two runs. That’s how Louisville took such a commanding lead.
The only real difference between these teams was the missed opportunities by Auburn. One hit with runners in scoring position with less than two outs, and the game might have flipped the other way.
They said it
Auburn coach Butch Thompson: “If anything negative would come toward Auburn baseball and the program, it should be directed right square at my chest. From our support staff, from our players, from anybody that I’ve watched work this year, to help this ballclub, I’ll fight and protect. If anything of us being in a better position and trying to make the program better, every negative connotation should be directed right toward myself.”