OMAHA, Neb. — A couple of errors and a slip on a wet field cost Auburn two runs Tuesday in its elimination game against Louisville.
When the game resumed 20 hours later after being suspended by rain, it was those two runs that proved to be the difference in the Tigers' 5-3 loss that sent them home from the College World Series.
The defeat ended a surprising posteseason run for the Tigers, who made their first College World Series trip since 1999.
It was an error on Ryan Bliss that started the pivotal fourth inning Tuesday that led to Louisville's crucial two runs.
“That’s going to haunt me," Bliss said. "I still replay that play in my head. I should have made it. Ten times out of ten, I make that play. Did it cost us the game? Yeah, I think so. But, like I said, it’s baseball. I got to be better in those situations and just move on from it.”
Richard Fitts and Ryan Watson did their part to keep the margin within three after the game resumed Wednesday. Louisville scored only one run — on a Campbell RBI single off Fitts in the top of the eighth inning — and left three other runners on base.
Auburn's offense simply couldn't dig out of the hole the defense put it in. It scored only two more runs over the final five innings against three of the Cardinals' top relievers, on Conor Davis' two-out RBI double in the seventh and solo home run in the ninth.
But Adam Elliott, Michael McAvene and Michael Kirian limited the damage time and time again. The Tigers' best chance came with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, when Edouard Julien, Matt Scheffler and Kason Howell hit three consecutive singles to load the bases. Leadoff man Judd Ward struck out to strand all three, capping an 0-for-5, four-K afternoon and a 3-for-27 slump to end the year.
"To win a championship your best players have to play their best. I have told the players that a thousand times," Auburn coach Butch Thompson said. "Enough guys contributed and you pass it around, some guys are hot and some guys are cold, that’s baseball. I still believe at the end of the year our teammates and our coaches, he’s the heart and soul of our ballclub."
Auburn never stopped fighting, even after what was clearly a missed opportunity in the eighth inning. Bliss nearly beat out an infield hit to start the bottom of the ninth, and Davis followed with his solo home run, giving him a CWS-record-tying three extra-base hits in the game. Steven Williams doubled to right field with two outs, bringing the tying run to the plate.
“It felt like Georgia Tech again," Bliss said, referencing Williams' walk-off, three-run home run in Game 2 of the Atlanta Regional. "We were just thinking something magical was going to happen. It didn’t, but the whole energy in the dugout, nobody was down. We were optimistic the whole time."
The game ended when first baseman Rankin Woley struck out swinging on a 2-2 pitch.
"I was just fighting so hard to get it to Eddy (Julien)," an emotional Woley said in the locker room. "Just to get it to him and get it to the next guy, just fighting and battling. All year, we’ve just battled. It sucks to go down like that. You want to come through for them so bad."
"Of course, if we played a little cleaner, I still think we’re playing baseball here in the World Series," Thompson said. "But I think as time goes by, I’ll see that we have the ingredients. We have the ingredients with our staff. I think we have the ingredients with the fanbase. I think we have the ingredients with the players," Thompson said.
"I came away thinking that Auburn baseball can play in this deal without having to do anything magical."