In a year where Auburn was projected to finish seventh in the SEC West, Auburn was among the final six teams alive in its unforeseen postseason run.
However, it was its own division that brought on its downfall. After losing to Ole Miss in game one of the College World Series, Auburn was dominated 11-1 by Arkansas to end its season.
“I didn’t want this ride to end,” said head coach Butch Thompson. “Hopefully we’ve stair-stepped this program to keep fighting and having a feeling that the best is yet to come.”
Once again, Auburn was silenced by a division opponent’s starting pitcher. For Ole Miss, it was Dylan Delucia who shut down Auburn. For Arkansas, Will McEntire and his breaking balls did the job.
“The two losses we had [in the College World Series], we scored one run in each game,” Thompson said. “Down the stretch, we had to tip our hat to too many starting pitchers… Those third and fourth innings were too much to overcome.”
He hit the strike zone early and often, notching nine Ks (eight swinging.) Six of his strikeouts came consecutively in the second and third innings following Arkansas’ double play to end the first inning.
He lasted seven innings into the game and allowed just three Auburn hits and just one more base runner on a walk to earn the win and improve to 2-2. McEntire held Auburn hitless through three innings and didn’t surrender an extra-base hit until Bobby Pierce stroked a line drive homer in the seventh inning to deny the shutout.
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"(McEntire) had all of his pitches working for him," said senior Brody Moore. "Wherever Turner put his glove, that's where the ball was going. I thought he had great command and didn't make as many mistakes as a starting pitcher usually does."
Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn made a lineup change in an elimination game, and it paid off. He moved lefty Peyton Stovall to second in the lineup, and he exploded for a 5-for-6 performance with three RBI.
Stovall led the way, but the whole top of the Razorback’s lineup came through with big nights. Arkansas had five guys with multi-hit games, and the team had 16 hits as a club.
Auburn starting pitcher Mason Barnett was not able to match McEntire’s dominance. After pitching in wins in the final games of the Regional and Super Regional, Barnett’s luck ran out against the disciplined Arkansas hitters.
He was able to survive an early attack from the Hogs in the first inning, but three more runs in the third inning ended his day. When he allowed back-to-back knocks to start off the game, a mound visit from pitching coach Tim Hudson allowed him to calm down and punch out two batters and retire three straight to end the inning.
However, while McEntyre held Auburn hitless through the first three innings, its only base runner coming from a questionable no-call on a full count pitch to Moore, Barnett ran into trouble again in the third inning, and this time he couldn’t escape it. The Hogs pushed one across on a single before Robert Moore shot a double down the line in left field to score two more.
Mike Bello had no shot at making the play, but that might be a good thing. With the sun glaring right into his eyes in the first five innings or so, he struggled to see and track down fly balls early in the game, and it seemed like left field was Arkansas’ happy zone.
A single that should’ve been an easy out dropped in front of Bello to get things going for the Hogs in a three-run third inning before a no-doubt homer in the fourth left him searching for a ball he never saw.
Barnett was not as efficient hitting the strike zone, and the Arkansas hitters did not help him out. He picked up his third loss of the season, exiting after 77 pitches and only getting eight outs.
After John Armstrong came in and struck out his first hitter to stop the bleeding in the third, he could not repeat his performance in the fourth, as Arkansas mounted another monster inning.
Following a single and a double to put runners on second and third, Armstrong induced a popup for the second out and looked to escape the jam. Arkansas then smashed two consecutive extra-base hits to score four runs. Michael Turner knocked home two on a double before a Chris Lanzilli homer made it 8-0.
With Auburn held to two hits, Arkansas tacked on another run, this time on senior Carson Skipper. Again with two outs, Skipper gave up back-to-back base hits that brought Casey Wallace home before another single chased Skipper after his two-inning performance in which he surrendered three hits while striking out two.
Finally ending the shutout in the seventh, Pierce notched double digits in homers on the year with a solo shot down the left field line for his tenth of the year.
This was just one of several opportunities for the right fielder to show off in the game. After Auburn lost its review in the first inning challenging an out call, Pierce gunned down a man at second in the fourth inning but he was ruled safe.
He was determined to throw someone out, though, and after spinning in a circle, he fired a ball to third to get a man going from first to third on a single in the eighth inning.
Other than a single from Kason Howell and two singles from Sonny DiChiara, however, Pierce’s gems were the only excitement for the Tigers in the end of an unbelievable postseason run.
To wrap things up, Auburn went to a group of four relievers: Chase Isbell, Chase Allsup, Carson Swilling and Brooks Fuller for the last 4.1 innings. They got six strikeouts while surrendering two hits and two runs in the ninth.
Auburn pitchers ended with 13 strikeouts in the game, notching double-digit Ks in all three games at the 2022 CWS.
When McEntire exited after seven innings, the Arkansas bullpen shut things down with two scoreless innings, and the Razorback offense added two more runs in the ninth inning to make it a double-digit victory.
Arkansas (45-20) will advance to play Ole Miss in a rematch to see who goes to the NCAA Championship against the winner of Texas A&M and Oklahoma. Arkansas, already with a loss in the Colllege World Series to Ole Miss, will have to beat the Rebels twice to advance.
Despite a disappointing finish, this Auburn baseball team (43-22) will go down in the history books. They finished fifth in a loaded SEC, hosted and won a Regional for the first time since 2010, went to Oregon and defeated the No. 3 team in the country in the Corvallis Super Regional and got its first win in the CWS since 1997.
"A lot of people can say that coming to Omaha is a once in a lifetime thing, but me, Kason (Howell) and Brody (Moore) and all the other guys have been here twice," Skipper said. "It's incredible to come to a place that brings such joy and happiness to the college baseball world more than once."
Doubted from the beginning, this team overachieved all season in the senior class’ second trip to Omaha. Seniors Moore and Skipper sat beside Thompson postgame and had nothing but praise for their ball coach.
“[Getting back to Omaha] is a testament to (coach Thompson),” Moore said. “He’s a great leader. He’s one of the best I’ve ever played for. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
This is a team that has momentum going into the future. Being able to host a Regional and seeing the team be so dominant in it might have been exactly what Auburn needed to bring excitement to baseball on the Plains for years to come.
"I absolutely think we're on the cusp of doing amazing things consistently," Thompson said. "That’ll be the driving force, trying to leave this program in a better place."
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