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greater things on the horizon

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Auburn baseball sees 'greater things on the horizon' after Super Regional loss

Updated Jun 14, 4:25 PM; Posted Jun 14, 3:20 PM

By Tom Green

tgreen@al.com

After their best season in more than two decades, Butch Thompson and his Auburn team were left wanting more.

The Tigers' 2018 campaign ended in heartbreak Monday night in Gainesville, Fla., the team on the wrong end of an 11th-inning walk-off home run to end its thrilling Super Regional against defending national champion Florida, which booked its fourth straight trip to Omaha. A year removed from being one pitch away from a Super Regional, the Tigers found themselves one swing away from the College World Series.

"It's like life," Thompson said. "Just one more. One more. Keep fighting and stick with it, keep trying to make adjustments, keep trying to develop, keep trying to grow, keep trying to attack, keep trying to believe in everything that you do, but yeah, I'm glad we were here. I wanted more for our guys. I wanted another week with them, another two weeks with them. It'll end tonight, but the message won't change at all."

Auburn finished the season 43-23, winning two games in the SEC Tournament, sweeping through the Raleigh Regional with relative ease and winning a Super Regional game for the first time in program history after earning the team's second-ever Super Regional berth, and first since 1999. By just about any metric, it was Auburn's most successful season since 1997, when the team won 50 games and made it to the College World Series for the fourth (and most recent) time in program history.

Monday's loss to Florida may have been a disappointing end to that campaign, but in the grander view, it was a culmination of -- and a testament to -- what Thompson has been able to do with the program in three short years.

The Tigers won just 23 games and did not qualify for the SEC Tournament in Thompson's first season after he took over for the fired Sunny Golloway just a few months before the start of the 2016 season. Auburn followed it up with an impressive turnaround in 2017, when the team qualified for the NCAA Tournament and came within one strike of defeating host Florida State in the Tallahassee Regional to earn a Super Regional berth.

This year, after being picked to finish sixth in the SEC West and entering the season unranked, Auburn put together an impressive campaign that saw the Tigers nearly earn a regional host bid, complete a three-game sweep on the road at the Raleigh Regional -- against Northeastern, Army and NC State -- as a No. 2 seed, and then push the tournament's No. 1 overall seed to the brink of elimination before Austin Langworthy's 11th-inning home run caromed off the glove of a leaping Steven Williams at the right-field wall of McKethan Stadium to send the Gators back to the CWS.

"I used to not even be able to field a groundball," said redshirt senior pitcher Andrew Mitchell, whose first season on the Plains was in 2016 when Thompson took over. "To see how fast this program took off under him just shows what he does, inspires us and coaches us up and we're always ready to play. It doesn't matter who it is. Just to see how far we've come, it's been truly a blessing and I now there's greater things on the horizon."

Davis Daniel's 'elite' outing shows Auburn's pitching not all that far behind Florida's

Butch Thompson described Florida's pitching staff as elite, but the emergence of Davis Daniel as a reliever late in the year showed that the Tigers aren't too far behind.

While the Tigers will have plenty of key roles to fill -- including Casey Mize's spot in the weekend rotation, center fielder Jay Estes, second baseman Luke Jarvis, first baseman Josh Anthony, and likely catcher Brett Wright and third baseman Brendan Venter, plus Mitchell and reliever Calvin Coker -- there shouldn't be any shortage of talent on next year's team.

The Tigers will return Freshman All-Americans Tanner Burns, Cody Greenhill, Williams and Edouard Julien, as well as sophomores Will Holland and Conor Davis, freshman Judd Ward and potentially sophomore Davis Daniel -- who must decide if he will sign with the Milwaukee Brewers or return for his junior season -- to pair with a signing class ranked sixth nationally by Baseball America.

With Thompson and his program yearning for more, there won't be any shortage of expectations, either.

"Not that anybody doubted that we could be here, but I think it makes the vision more clear," Daniel said. "Everybody knows how close we were. Last year was the Regional, this year we pushed to the Super Regional and we're ready to bust that door open."

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

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Has anyone heard anything on Butch & the AD meeting for contract extension?  I hope that this gets done this week signed sealed and delivered. The longer MSU stays in the tourney, the better it is for us to get Butch locked down. I do not want this thing to carry on for too long and want the AD to get this done asap. I know coaches come and go, but Butch is one coach I want to stay for many seasons and make Auburn a tough team that is in the mix every season.  I would not be surprised if we make it to the CWS next season with Butch guiding the ship towards Omaha.

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