After coming about as close as possible last June to earning a trip to the College Baseball World Series, Coach Butch Thompson’s Tigers will try to take another big step forward beginning on Friday as they open the regular season.
In 2017 the Tigers came within one pitch of winning the NCAA regional at Florida State where their season ended just short of advancing to a super regional.
In 2018 Auburn gave Florida a fight to the final out after winning the regional at North Carolina State and moving on to the super regional on the Gators’ home field.
Like almost every college baseball team, the 2019 Tigers have rebuilding to do at key positions, but they also return four Freshmen All-Americans on a roster that brings back most of their top pitchers.
Combine that with other pro prospects like junior shortstop Will Holland plus a recruiting class that should provide early help in the field, at the plate and on the mound, and 2019 has the potential to be another enjoyable season at Plainsman Park.
The action is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. on Friday as Georgia Southern visits to open a three-game series. With a record 2,200-plus season tickets sold and 550 fans attending the Auburn Diamond Club Banquet last Saturday night, interest in baseball is on the rise on the Plains because the product on the field has been worth watching.
Across the street at Auburn Arena the basketball Tigers are still a work in progress even though they are in the second half of league play. The team probably lost any chance to defend its SEC title after suffering a fifth conference loss last Saturday at LSU, but there is plenty to play for in the coming weeks.
If Coach Bruce Pearl can get Austin Wiley healthy and performing at a higher level and if Danjel Purifoy continues to make progress, this team has enough depth and talent to make a strong run in the SEC Tournament in Nashville, something the Tigers weren’t able to do a year ago at St. Louis.
The Tigers are on pace to earn an NCAA Tournament bid, but they need to keep on improving if this is going to be a memorable season. If steady improvement happens, the wins should come with the potential to go into postseason as a stronger team than the Tigers were in postseason a year earlier.
From the notebook:
• The AU men’s and women’s golf teams opened their spring schedules with strong showings, picking up where they left off in the fall. The women’s squad, which is up to 11th nationally, is the most improved team on the Auburn campus this season. The men’s team, the defending SEC champion, finished second to No. 1 ranked Oklahoma State in a 20-team field at the Amer Ari Invitational in Hawaii.
• The strongest team on campus continues to be the defending national champion equestrian squad. The AU riders finished the fall ranked No. 1 nationally and this month they posted dominating wins vs. two Top 10 opponents on a road trip to California. Last weekend at The Auburn Equestrian Center the now 9-0 Tigers were even more dominant in defeating a Top 10 team 17-0 and another opponent was outscored 20-0.
The last home meet of the season is on March 8th vs. long-time rival Georgia, which will likely draw a large crowd to see what Coach Greg Williams says could be the best team in the program’s history.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter