OMAHA, Neb. — With a stomach problem and nearly seven decades of history working against them, the Auburn Tigers were left with only two options Monday as they fell behind against No. 2 Stanford in the Men’s College World Series. Attack or go home.
“My task is to [help] a group of players and coaches leaving with no regrets,” said Tigers coach Butch Thompson after his team rallied for a 6-2 win, their first MCWS win in 25 years. “Just let it be. What are we going to do, screw up or make a mistake? I want them to attack as much as possible.”
Stanford was the highest seeded player in the MCWS field and had never left Omaha without a win in 17 previous trips to the MCWS dating back to 1953. But it was sent home 2-0 on Monday after Cole Foster hit a three-run double in the sixth inning to put Auburn into Tuesday’s eliminator against Arkansas.
After possibly the biggest success of his life, Foster barely got to second base because he was so ill, according to Thompson. Foster did not appear at the post-game press conference because he was scheduled to receive IV fluids after the game, Thompson said.
Foster suffered a 5-1 loss to Ole Miss in the fourth inning of Saturday’s game due to illness. In a pregame interview with Auburn Tigers voice artist Andy Burcham, Thompson said he has “seven or eight guys too many on the bathroom and doesn’t feel good after a tough week.” But he didn’t want to apologize.
Thompson confirmed to ESPN late Monday that the Tigers were battling a gastrointestinal virus.
But as he sat in his hotel room Sunday night, Thompson appeared more preoccupied with the story. He knew that in the past four decades only four teams have won a national championship after losing the first game, so he reached out to two of those teams’ coaches: Pat Casey (2006 and 2018) of Oregon State and Ray Tanner ( 2010) from South Carolina. .
He asked her to guide him through the journeys of these teams. Tanner, who could be reached by phone Monday night, said he exchanged texts with Thompson around 9 p.m. ET on Sunday. Tanner told him baseball is a game of failure, but you can’t be afraid of failure. You can’t wait for something to happen; you have to make it
Auburn went down 2-0 as attackers in the fifth inning on Monday. It did them no good; The Tigers attempted a double steal, but Foster went into a rundown between the third game and the home game.
But they hit it big in the next inning. Back-to-back singles, a hitter and a walk gave Auburn its first run in the sixth. Then Foster cleared the bases with his double from the midfield wall.
“They came down,” Tanner said. “But they pushed buttons and made movements.”
Auburn added two more runs with doubles from Blake Rambusch and Bobby Pierce in seventh place. Stanford’s last real chance to rally came at the end of the seventh when the Cardinal loaded bases and Blake Burkhalter was called out of the Auburn bullpen.
Burkhalter hit Brett Barrera, Stanford’s leading batsman, on a cutter to end the rally.
“You know the bases are loaded, but you have to flush them,” said Burkhalter, who struck out five and allowed just one hit in the last 2⅓ innings.
“I don’t think I had my fastball command all day, but the cutter worked and the switch worked and I had to lean on that. I got what, I think it was a 3-2 count. I was about to walk it but luckily I had this strikeout and got us off the field.”
Thompson said hitting a program of Stanford’s caliber was an important step in Auburn baseball’s history. He said he followed the Cardinal’s success as a child growing up in Mississippi.
As Stanford prepared to leave Omaha, Cardinal coach Dave Esquer said he won’t spend much time reflecting on Monday’s historic significance.
“I’m proud of these guys,” Esquer said. “And nothing will take us away from what we achieved this year.
“I told them in our scrum that over time no one will remember what the score of any of our games was or what our record was here at Omaha. I think what I’ll remember is I had a chance to go with a team I love, go to the College World Series and spend about a week playing for the national championship.”