The day Auburn made the decision to remove Sonny Golloway as head coach of the baseball team the program took a leap forward in a positive direction.
Since making the decision to bring back former AU assistant coach Butch Thompson to lead the Tigers, there have been numerous steps in the right direction. None have surprised me because of the quality of the coach and person who is running the show.
The latest step forward, and one of the most important, happened in Chapel Hill on Monday where the Tigers won the North Carolina Regional with a 14-7 victory over the host Tar Heels.
After coming about as close as a team could get to ending its College World Series drought a year earlier when the No. 1 ranked Florida Gators barely got past the Tigers in a super regional at Gainesville, this year’s group fought, clawed and scratched its way into the sport’s big event, the eight-team World Series that begins this weekend in Omaha.
Thompson as head coach is a guy who likes to keep the focus on what the players are doing to make good things happen. That is appropriate, for sure, but he is also worthy of praise for the work he has done and the decisions that have been made leading to this renaissance for Auburn baseball.
Earning a trip to Omaha is a big deal in any season. Doing it this year with Thompson having to juggle the pitching rotation due to injuries with his top three starters has been impressive. Now Thompson and the Tigers will take on Mississippi State on Sunday evening to open the double-elimination College World Series.
Like Bruce Pearl’s basketball team, the baseball Tigers have reached the big stage in their sport, something that Pearl and his staff are working to make a regular occurrence as evidenced by their efforts on the recruiting trail.
Since advancing to the Final Four in April the basketball Tigers have been on the radar of numerous bluechip prospects and there has been a steady stream of them making trips to the campus to check out the Tigers.
One of those players, 6-5 1/2 guard Justin Powell from Goshen, Kentucky, became Auburn’s first verbal commitment for the 2020 class when he chose the Tigers over Xavier, Ohio State, Georgia Tech and others. He is rated as the No. 1 prospect in Kentucky and a versatile guy who can play both guard positions plus small forward.
Powell’s commitment followed one from Daeshun Ruffin, a point guard who is the No. 1 prospect in the state of Mississippi for the 2021 class.
Auburn helped its cause with Powell by making him a scholarship offer very early in the recruiting process. He is an effective scorer from behind the three-point line and inside near the basket.
The parade of bluechip visitors has continued with the Tigers receiving official visits last weekend from talented class of 2020 guards Jayden Stone and Jaden Springer.
Stone, who was Alabama’s 2A Player of the Year this past season at Sacred Heart in Anniston, will play his senior year at Sunrise Christian in Wichita, Kansas. He is a four-star prospect who moved to the United States from Australia in 2016.
Springer, the No. 2 ranked shooting guard prospect nationally, is from Charlotte, North Carolina, but plays for IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
Pearl and the Tigers certainly have major rebuilding to do after losing five good players from the 2018-19 roster, but if they can sign several of the five-star and four-star recruits who are considering the program there will be more exciting days and nights on the horizon at Auburn Arena in the years to come.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter