STULTZ: Tigers capable of magical run ... just don't ask them
If you’ve seen Bull Durham, you know baseball players are known for using cliches when speaking with the media. We gotta play it one day at a time. Just trying to get good contact on the ball. That’s how the ball bounces somedays.
You get the point. Every sport has cliches, but baseball seems to be full of them. So when Auburn players are asked about looking toward the SEC Tournament and a shot at another run at the College World Series, it comes as no surprise that they stick to the “every game is an opportunity, just have to focus on the next pitch” media strategy. It’s what their coach, Butch Thompson, says, and therefore that is the message they receive.
As I’m not a player, I can say more about this team than they will: they have a great shot at going deep and are one of the more fun squads I have ever covered. You’ve got a great dugout full of chemistry and players ready to step up when asked. Just look at Saturday’s win against Alabama.
The team could have easily folded with Trace Bright struggling and going just one inning after giving up four runs, especially with the bullpen coming in earlier than expected. Tommy Sheehan, expected to be a starter this season, has accepted his role as a relief pitcher and shut down the Crimson Tide in a hurry, allowing just a hit over four shutout innings. Carson Swilling picked it up with two scoreless frames and Chase Allsup saved the game and Blake Burkhalter from appearing for the second straight night.
It's been different players stepping up all season. As Sonny DiChiara struggled in the 6-4 win on Saturday, Blake Rambusch got three hits, including starting the two-run, two-out rally in the seventh and Bobby Peirce delivering the go-ahead RBI single a batter later. More known for his defensive abilities, Nate LaRue tied the game with a clutch two-out RBI single an inning earlier.
Kason Howell runs down anything remotely close to being a hit in center. Brody Moore has shown a sure glove in his first season at shortstop while being a reliable part of the top of the lineup. Each player brings their assets to form a team that doesn't back down to anyone.
They are also hitting their stride at the right time, including a maligned bullpen after last season. More importantly, they are having fun, and why wouldn't they be? After a 2020 season unexpectedly cut short due to COVID-19 and a frustrating 2021, Plainsman Park and the Tigers are buzzing again.
Will they be one of the favorites to reach Omaha? Probably not, but as we have seen time and again, when Auburn is counted out, that is when they are at their best. Lest we forget, these Tigers were picked to finish last in the SEC West. The players said, 'Phooey' to that as they currently sit 15-11 in conference play and, with a successful weekend against Kentucky, will get a first-round bye as one of the top four seeds in the SEC Tournament next week.
Hosting a regional and super regional will be huge, but as some of the players showed three years ago, it doesn't matter where the game is played. North Carolina certainly learned that in the hardest of ways.
So yeah, this Auburn team has all of the pieces coming together for another magical June that could end in the confines of TD Ameritrade Park. That's the dream for every college baseball player, even if they stay on the company line of stating it is just the next pitch they are concerned about.
As Thompson loves to say, you have to focus on the process, not the possible results. This team has lived up to that mantra and will continue until the season ends. I'm just looking forward to seeing how far they can go.