OMAHA, Neb. — Auburn swung to the end.
The Tigers battled to get the tying run to the plate, fighting back against shock, heartbreak and even the sky above in Omaha, down to their final out in the summer sun Wednesday at the College World Series.
With a runner on second in the bottom of the ninth, Auburn made its final stand, before a Louisville strikeout ended Auburn’s season in a 5-3 elimination loss.
Louisville’s Michael Kirian struck out Auburn’s Rankin Woley to finish it, and the Tigers stepped off the field with their history written.
Auburn’s first trip to the College World Series since 1997 ended there. New banners will hang in Plainsman Park the next time the Tigers take to the diamond.
“That’s been the story of us all year,” Conor Davis said, under Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park, just outside Auburn’s dejected locker room and just after Auburn’s comeback bid came up short. Auburn returned to the field after a gut-wrenching loss to Mississippi State in its opener on Sunday to battle against Louisville in the face of elimination.
Davis hit two doubles and a home run in the stretch innings of the game on Wednesday, after the Tigers went back on the field knowing they were down big to Louisville after Tuesday’s start to the eliminator, trying to claw back after a 20-hour rain delay.
“It just shows this is what we’ve been doing all year,” he said. “We’ve been behind. We’ve had ups and downs. It’s a tough pill to swallow that we didn’t get where we wanted to go here, but at the same time we made history by being the first team in 22 years to get here.”
Davis hit a solo home run blast in the bottom of the ninth to make it a two-run game, and give Auburn an opportunity after Steven Williams’ two-out double sent Woley to the batter’s box to give Auburn one last puncher’s chance.
In the end, Auburn had too little left to charge back one more time in Omaha.
Auburn loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth before Louisville punched out of the jam.
“This group is going to be dear to me,” Auburn head coach Butch Thompson said, after Auburn’s wild ride in the NCAA Tournament finally ended after roars through Atlanta and Chapel Hill, N.C. on the way to Omaha. Auburn finished the season 38-28.
“It may be one of the most special groups I’ve ever been a part of — because we couldn’t see it at times, of really being able to see being here.”
Play was suspended Tuesday in the middle of the elimination game, before the game’s fifth inning. On Wednesday, Auburn got back on the board in the seventh, but Louisville answered with a run of its own in the top of the eighth, and from there the Cardinals kept the Tigers at bay.
It was here at TD Ameritrade Park on Tuesday that Louisville built the lead that ended up putting the Tigers away, scoring three runs in the top of the fourth as the sky started to open up over Omaha, and the downpour fell over Auburn fielding errors that helped run up Louisville’s scoring.
Auburn had its own chances on Wednesday, but not enough big swings — or timely hitting — left to extend its postseason push. Auburn got on base in each of Wednesday’s first four innings, in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth — but all of them came with two outs already down. Davis’ RBI double in the seventh was the only time Auburn had the chance to capitalize. Louisville closer Michael McAvene struck out Judd Ward to get out of the jam in the bottom of the eighth.
The Tigers stranded runners in all five of Wednesday’s late-game innings.
The game was delayed 20 hours and 11 minutes. It continued shortly after 11 a.m. Wednesday.
Louisville moved on in the tournament. Auburn heads home. Most of Auburn’s lineup from this run to the College World Series is set to return for Thompson next season.
The Tigers program has been to the College World Series in 1967, 1976, 1994, 1997 and now 2019.
Davis hit two doubles and that solo homer all on Wednesday alone. His homer in the ninth gave the game its final score and gave the Tigers fans one last big reason to cheer in Omaha on college baseball’s biggest stage.
“It’s been special,” Davis said of the ride. “This has been a dream of mine ever since I was little. Besides playing in the major leagues, this has been the biggest dream of mine to come here and play in TD Ameritrade.
“It wasn’t the result we wanted and as far as we wanted to go, but it was as dream come true playing here and getting the opportunity to compete.”