The CWS opener is a numbing disappointment for the Auburn baseball team

Ole Miss was ranked No. 1 in the nation when visiting Auburn for the SEC baseball season opener. But after picking up two of three wins at Plainsman Park, the Rebels faded. They are no longer passed out.

After a 7-14 start to the game against the SEC, the Rebels warmed up throughout the streak. But they were unique in the SEC Tournament, and most showings had them missing the NCAA Tournament altogether. Instead, they were the last team to enter.

Unfortunately for Auburn, the Rebels are once again looking like the team that was ranked No. 1 in the nation, only better. And Auburn was their last victim in the first round of the College World Series on Saturday night, losing 5-1.

Ole Miss pitcher Dylan DeLucia, a reliever until the middle of the SEC season, continued a torrid postseason. Auburn’s hitters had no answers.

The game was a numbing disappointment for the Tigers. They came brimming with confidence and saying their only goal was to bring a national championship back to Auburn. Undoubtedly, this remains their objective, but the chances are now very long.

After doing a double in the 2019 College World Series, Auburn risks starting at two. The Tigers play for their lives in the World Series on Monday against Stanford, beaten 17-2 by Arkansas in Saturday’s opener.

How damaging was Auburn’s loss on Saturday? Consider:

The winner of Monday’s Ole Miss-Arkansas winners’ game will be a championship series victory. To get there, Auburn will have to beat Stanford on Monday, the loser of the Arkansas-Ole Miss game on Tuesday and, if that happens, will have to beat the winner Ole Miss-Arkansas twice. It’s not impossible, but it’s only happened four times in College World Series history.

Auburn starter Joseph Gonzalez was good Saturday, but he wasn’t great. Even big might not have been enough. Carson Skipper was terrific in relief from Gonzalez, giving up only one run that was the result of a blooper finding a place to land.

DeLucia held Auburn to four hits and a run in 7 2/3 innings. After Auburn finally knocked him out of the game, Josh Mallitz pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings, putting the team out in the ninth.

The Ole Miss batters had their share of trouble against the Auburn pitchers, striking out 13 times. But they took advantage when they had opportunities. They scored four of their five runs after two outs. Auburn had only one real opportunity, scoring a run on three straight hits in the seventh. But with two, DeLucia struck out the next three batters. Auburn’s offense was over for the day.

DeLucia had a perfect game in 4 2/3 innings before Brody Moore fielded a right-hand single. And then he went straight back to the baffling Auburn hitters.

Maybe that shouldn’t have been a surprise. Auburn’s run to the seventh inning snapped an Ole Miss streak of 26 straight playoff scoreless innings.

Auburn coach Butch Thompson said the hitters were “late in their approaches.” Whatever the reason, since scoring 51 points in three games in the Auburn Area, Auburn has scored 15 points in its last four games and eight in its last three games.

It was clear from listening to Thompson, Bobby Pierce and Skipper after the game that neither the players nor the coaches at Auburn felt they had played to the desired and expected level.

MORE THOUGHTS

–Neither Thompson nor his players have mentioned it and won’t, but I couldn’t help but wonder if the grueling travel schedule of the past five days caught up with Auburn’s players on Saturday.

– Don’t put too much into Stanford’s 17-2 loss to Arkansas on Saturday. Margin of victory means nothing in baseball. Going to two would be a bitter pill for Stanford or Auburn. Both will, for sure, be motivated on Monday.

–The old adage “play them one game at a time” has never been more apt for Auburn than it is now. Auburn coaches can’t worry about saving the bullpen or even thinking in terms of the future. The only mission may be to win and then gather all you can for the next game.

— It’s OK for me to look forward. Auburn’s other two weekend starters are still available. Beating Stanford and beating game loser Ole Miss-Arkansas, and who knows what might happen? To win any game, Auburn’s offense must come together.

–Four national seeds — No. 2 Stanford, No. 5 Texas A&M, No. 9 Texas and No. 14 Auburn — have made it to the College World Series field. All have lost their first matches. The two matches in the winners group will have all unseeded teams. I wonder if this has ever happened?

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