OMAHA, Neb. – This time, Auburn was on the other side of a comeback as the Tigers fell to Mississippi State 5-4 in the opening round of the College World Series.
Auburn made clutch play after clutch play to hold onto their lead throughout the night, but Mississippi State scored four runs in the ninth to flip the script and write their ending to the game.
Auburn entered the bottom of the ninth inning leading 4-1. Freshman pitcher Richard Fitts had just thrown two scoreless innings, and Auburn opted to allow him to venture into the ninth.
He allowed a leadoff double to Jake Mangum, the SEC’s career leader in hits. Auburn pulled Fitts and turned to Tanner Burns for the last three outs.
Burns struck out the first batter he faced, but, after a walk, Elijah MacNamee hit a double to score Mangum and bring the game within two runs. With one out, Mississippi State scored another run on a groundout from Justin Foscue. On a ground ball to third, Edouard Julien overthrew first base, and Mississippi State tied the game.
In the next at bat, Halter loaded the bases with an infield single, and Marshall Gilbert hit a walk-off single to win the game. The win was Mississippi State’s 28th comeback victory of the season.
“We’ve been through a ton, if you’ve watched our ball club,” Auburn head coach Butch Thompson said. “This team’s really grown a lot. We’ve changed, and we’re better. I don’t think much shocks us. We’ll be back.”
The Tigers were one out away from their first victory in the College World Series since 1997. Auburn will play Louisville in an elimination game Tuesday at 1 p.m. on ESPN.
Mississippi State advances to play Vanderbilt in the winner’s bracket Tuesday at 6 p.m. on ESPN.
The nation’s strikeout leader, Ethan Small, started the game for Mississippi State. After Small struck out the first five Auburn batters, the Tigers burst onto the Omaha scene with a monstrous 429-foot home run from Julien that put Auburn up 2-0 in the second inning.
“He turned on that ball, and he hit it a ton,” Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis said. “He’s one of the best hitters in the country.”
The home run is tied with Florida’s Peter Alonso for the longest home-run in a College World Series game at TD Ameritrade Park, according to the NCAA Baseball twitter account.
Two walks with two-outs in the fourth came back to haunt Small when Julien collected his third RBI of the night on a single. Auburn led 3-0 after four innings. Julien finished the day 2 for 4 with three RBI.
Small reached 100 pitches in the fifth inning, and he did not return for the sixth, allowing three runs on three hits in five innings pitched.
Jack Owen started the game for Auburn. In his three NCAA tournament appearances, Owen allowed seven runs across 13.2 innings pitched.
Owen found himself in a jam with bases loaded in the bottom of the fifth, but he shut the inning down with Mississippi State still searching for their first run.
Nonetheless, the Bulldogs continued to knock on the door. Owen gave up a leadoff hit and a walk to start the bottom of the sixth, and his day ended with Elliott Anderson coming on in relief. Owen threw five innings, allowing one run on six hits.
Mississippi State capitalized on a single from Gunner Halter that scored their first run of the game. Anderson only retired one batter, and, with two runners on and one out, Auburn went to Cody Greenhill to stifle the Bulldog comeback.
Greenhill responded with a strikeout, but, in the next at bat, he hit Mangum to load the bases with two outs. Just as Owen did the inning before, Greenhill closed the inning, minimizing the damage done. Auburn led 3-1 after the sixth, but Mississippi State kept coming.
In the bottom of the seventh, Greenhill surrendered a leadoff walk and a hit that saw Auburn dip into their bullpen for a third time. With no outs, Fitts relieved Greenhill, looking to be the bridge to Burns, who was also warming up in the bullpen.
On Fitts’ first pitch, he generated a double play, and the freshman ended the inning with the next at bat, escaping with no runs across.
Auburn responded in the eighth when Stephen Williams singled and Will Holland scored on a throwing error. With a 4-1 lead heading into the bottom of the inning, Auburn left Fitts in the game, and they were rewarded with a scoreless frame.
Fitts went two innings, and he allowed one run on one hit. Burns was charged with loss.