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All good things

Remember this first.

It was a maddening, frustrating night. And I’m not going to sit here and pretend it was a night equally important night to all the other nights. It was much, much more important.

But still: one night only, one game only. Auburn had played 63 games before last night, and they’d won 43 of them. That’s a lot. It was enough to return to Hoover for the first time in seven years. It was enough to win the SEC West. It was enough to bring a Regional to Plainsman Park and pack it to the absolute gills. It was enough to bring Creede Simpson to the plate with two on and two out in the ninth inning. One night changes none of that.

I’d write more–some kind of halting attempt at gratitude–but commenter Brad wrote about it yesterday better than I could:

Just had to say this. I have been to easily 150+ games at Plainsman Park and more than 1,500 baseball games in my life (I’m only 26). That the best game I can remember seeing if you include the magnitude of what it meant, and I’ve seen Eric Brandon’s perfect game, Ubaldo Jimenez’s no-hitter this year, several big league cycles, and major league playoff games. Plus, that was the absolute loudest I have EVER heard Plainsman Park. It makes me wish that crowd was there all the time, not just for playoff baseball.

Baseball is the sport I follow most closely at Auburn after the boys on the gridiron, and quite honestly is my favorite b/c I met my best friends at the park during undergrad. Three of us have been to every home game this year and traveled to Oxford for the West Division championship series a few weeks ago and I can tell you that tears were shed between us, if only because I haven’t lived here in several years and this was our first season back together. It feels like “our” team, since everyone goes to football, but not as many follow baseball religiously. I’m rarely speechless (hell, I used to get paid to talk about baseball for a living) but last night left me so. Thank you Creede, Austin, Slade, Freddy, JB, Hunter, KP, and the many others I’m leaving off of this for this season. It means more than you will ever know.

I don’t know if Auburn will sell out a regular season series next year the way they did this Regional. But they will sell more tickets and they will run onto the field to louder cheers and they will have more of us–like me–following them and rooting for them even when they are far away. I would bet anything.

Going to a super regional would have been nice. But what this team had to do was nothing less than revive the Auburn baseball program, which in some ways is a much harder thing to do. But that’s what they did anyway.

Other thoughts:

— By my count, Auburn had 22 at-bats with runners in scoring positions. Those 22 at-bats produced six hits, and only four 0f those hits produced an RBI. 22 opportuinities to drive in a run; four of them taken. That’s not gonna cut it. The Auburn pitching could have been a little better, I guess, but at this stage you knew Clemson was going to put up a ton of runs. This team has lived and died with its offense all season, and this once it couldn’t quite rise to the occasion.

— It rankles, sure, to see 5 of the 8 SEC teams in the tournament advance to Super Regionals and Auburn not be among them. And I cling to my long-held belief that experience, in sports, is globally overrated. But in college sports, particularly, I do think experience matters. Those five teams–and Clemson–have all played multiple Regionals in recent years. They’ve already gone through the work of learning how to approach the most important games of the season the same way they approached the random, routine conference games they’ve played all spring. Auburn hadn’t. I don’t think that made all the difference, but I’ve seen the team-comes-out-of-nowhere-to-win-league-then-struggles-in-postseason narrative way too many times in college hoops to think it didn’t make some difference.

I mean, this is a team that went 8-1 over its final 9 SEC games, won its final five and six of its last seven SEC series, and did it all without any real benefit from random chance. In the postseason, they go 4-4 overall, win three of those games by a total  of five runs, and are outscored in their six games against non-mid-major competition by 15 runs. That shift didn’t happen just by coincidence.

— In that same vein, congratulations to Clemson. They were the best team at the Regional, hands down, no argument.

— This was fun. What say we do it again next year?

Photo by Van Emst.

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