Auburn, AL (EETV) - What a ride it has been for these Auburn Tigers. One year removed from a stunning, heartbreaking loss to Florida in which the Gators' Austin Langworthy hit a walk-off homerun to send Florida to the College World Series, and sent Auburn home, bags packed and all.
One year removed, and now Auburn (38-26) has their chance to send someone else's bags back home. This time it is Mississippi State (51-14), a team that Auburn has faced 3 times and is 1-2 in those efforts, which included a 20-15 loss.
Before the tournamment started, Auburn averaged just 4.4 runs a game over their last 27 games against SEC opponents. Since the tournament started however, their offensive struggles have seem to have disappeared with the team averaging 8.5 runs a game over the six tournament games.
Pitching will be the key in this matchup. Auburn has been hampered by injuries on the mound and lost opening day starter Davis Daniel just two innings into the game to Tommy John surgery. No.3 starter Jake Owen missed a month in the middle of the year, and Tanner Burnes has only pitched 17 innings since April 25 because of shoulder issues.
Not only is Mississippi State one of the best teams in the nation, they also possess two of the best players in the nation. Pitcher Ethan Small will start Sunday and has a record of 10-2 while posting a 1.76 ERA, and he was just drafted in the first round of the MLB Draft all while being named College Baseball's National Pitcher of the Year award.
Bulldogs center fielder Jake Magnum has 378 hits in his career, more than any other player in SEC history. He has a career high in hits for the year with 103 and has a .355 batting average this season.
Every statiscal category favors Mississippi State in this matchup, but just ask No. 3 nationally seeded Georgia Tech about that or even No. 14 nationally seeded North Carolina. At this stage of the tournament stats matter less and less. It's about heart and determination.
Auburn was shutout in Game 2 of the Super Regionals against North Carolina, but then had the second-largest scroing outburst ever in the top of the first inning in Game 3 with 13 runs. This Auburn team is as unpredictable as it gets.
But Auburn is playing for more off the field. There are two stickers on the back of the Auburn helmets, one saying "Lee County Strong" in honor of those who lost their lives and so much more during the March 3 tornado.
The second sticker has the intials "RB" which stands for Rod Bramblett, the longtime Auburn radio voice who tragically passed away with his wife in a car accident on May 25.
Auburn plays Mississippi State Sunday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN 2.