Auburn celebrates the final out of the Chapel Hill Super Regional (Aaron Fitt)


Auburn Wills Its Way To Omaha, At Long Last


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — For Tanner Burns, Ryan Bliss and the other members of Butch Thompson’s first two recruiting classes at Auburn, it was a leap of faith, an exercise in visualization. It was a vote of confidence in Thompson’s ability to transform an ambitious vision into a reality.

Burns and Bliss were high-profile recruits; they could have signed with some other program that had a sustained track record of postseason success. Instead, they signed with Auburn, a program that hadn’t been to the College World Series since 1997. Because they believed in Thompson.

“The only reason why I came to Auburn was to play for Coach Thompson,” Burns said Monday.

That was an uncanny echo of something Bliss said about 15 minutes before, in between hugs with giddy teammates on the Boshamer Stadium grass.

“Coach Thompson, he’s probably the only reason why I came to Auburn,” Bliss said. “I saw that he was flipping this program around big-time. When I committed, it was 2016. They lost the last game [of regionals] to Florida State. The next year they go to Florida and lose in a super regional, game three. Now we won the game three and now we’re going to Omaha — you can just see how it’s going.”

Indeed, Auburn’s progression in four years under Thompson’s leadership has been remarkable. Thompson inherited a program in turmoil at the end of the fall of 2015, and without the benefit of a full fall to gel together, the Tigers went 23-33 in 2016. A year later, they were in regionals. The year after that, they won a regional, only to get their hearts ripped out by Austin Langworthy’s walk-off home run in extra innings at the Gainesville Super Regional.

Now, Auburn is headed to Omaha after toppling North Carolina 14-7 in the winner-takes-all third game of the Chapel Hill Super Regional. After a 22-year drought, the dream has become a reality. …

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