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  • Writer's pictureKevin Scarbinsky

Not again, Auburn

They should've won the game. You know it. I know it. Butch Thompson and every one of his players know it.

You go to the bottom of the ninth with a three-run lead - in a World Series game in Little League, travel ball, college or the majors - you should win the game.

Auburn did, and Auburn didn't.

It was so Auburn, it hurt.

Even if the other team is Mississippi State, one of the best teams and programs in the country, this year's national leader in comeback victories, you should win the game.

Even if you summon your closer in the sixth inning and ask a starting pitcher, just back from injury, to make his first relief appearance in the ninth, you should win the game.

And, despite the unusual pitching decisions, despite giving up two doubles, a walk and two runs while getting to two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Auburn still had the game in its hands. In third baseman Edouard Julien's hands, to be precise. After fielding a routine ground ball, all he had to do was tag the runner bearing down on him from second or throw out the runner sprinting toward first, and Auburn would've won the game.

Instead the man who knocked in three of Auburn's four runs hesitated and sailed his throw over the first baseman's head. That let in the tying run, and everyone knew what would happen next. State would find a way to score the winning run, and three batters later, on a bouncing single off the pitcher's glove, it did.

Add Mississippi State 5, Auburn 4 to the list of the most painful losses in school history.

That ending, that half-inning horror show, was unlike anything the Tigers had experienced since … way back at the SEC Tournament in May. Then, a rare two-run walk-off wild pitch against LSU dismissed Auburn from the SEC Tournament, but it did something more. It gave the Tigers an opportunity to rest, reflect, reset and demonstrate what kind of team they really were.

They were the kind of team that would upset Georgia Tech in Atlanta to win an NCAA Regional and North Carolina in Chapel Hill to win a Super Regional to advance to the College World Series for the first time since 1997. When it mattered most, they were authentic.

Now, one loss from elimination, they get a day to get their minds right before facing another national seed Tuesday afternoon in Louisville. Winning the College World Series wasn't going to be easy for the most unexpected team in Omaha. Coming out of the losers' bracket will make it that much more difficult.

No team knows difficult quite like this Auburn team, but now there's no room left to make things harder on itself.

Auburn's Edouard Julien hits a home run for an early 2-0 lead against Mississippi State in the College World Series. (Cat Wofford/Auburn Athletics)



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