By Jeff Shearer
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Picked to finish last in the SEC West, Butch Thompson's second Auburn team came within one out of advancing to a Super Regional.
"As a head coach, you always wish you could've done something for your players to help them just one more inch," Thompson said. "So I want to release our players from that because they did everything in their power for us, all year since I've been head coach at Auburn."
Florida State ended Auburn's season Monday, winning 6-0. The Tigers (37-26) won the first two games of the Tallahassee regional, then were one out away from completing an epic comeback Sunday before losing to the host team 8-7 in 10 innings.
Monday's season finale did not match the drama of its predecessor, with FSU pitcher Will Zirzow limiting the Tigers to two Blake Logan hits while striking out 11.
"You've just got to tip your hat to him," Logan said.
"Calvin came in and did a really nice job," Thompson said. "I thought he did a little damage control right off the bat. There have been parts of the game where one of our pitchers, all four of these ball games, have done something special for us. As far as Calvin, he was the guy who did that today."
Perspective can be difficult to articulate within minutes of a season's final out, but Thompson gave it a try.
"We fight, grow, get better, bring this program to a point of being respectable and giving them hope, giving the fans hope and giving us meaning," he said. "So I thank them for that.
"We're in a good place. We've got a lot to keep looking forward to. We've improved the players on the field; our older guys are leading unbelievably and doing some special things. All the way around, I can see growth in our program. You can't ever stop; we have to do more and we have to get better.
"We all should always be trying to get better. I thought this team had more in it, so I'm very disappointed. It's been since 2013 since I've been to Omaha. I really had a vision for these players, this team, of being able to get there. Maybe I'm the only one who believed that, but it was a sincere thought and vision. So I'm disappointed in that fact. And this team had some pieces, like any team it's not perfect. But it had enough to get there."
Talk of 2018 can wait a bit. On the bus ride back from Tallahassee, Butch Thompson and the 2017 Tigers could reflect on memories made.
Like sweeping Florida in the opening SEC series. Conor Davis' walkoff home run to beat South Carolina. Keegan Thompson's return from elbow surgery to elite starter and team leader. Casey Mize's mindboggling 12-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio. Jay Estes' sterling defense in Montgomery to help win the Max Capital City Classic before a record crowd of 7,605. Josh Anthony playing third like a big leaguer. Luke Jarvis toughing it out, shaking off a back injury and making highlight plays at short and second.
Seniors Sam Gillikin, Bo Decker, J.J. Shaffer and Damon Haecker putting team before self, accepting whatever role was assigned. Lipscomb's move to the bullpen, becoming a trusty closer while earning a 4.0 GPA and first-team academic All-America honors.
Dylan Ingram homering in both games of a doubleheader sweep at Mississippi State, his former school. Will Holland's smooth play at shortstop and timely power, with home runs against Florida and in the opening game of the NCAA regional. Davis Daniel twice pitching Auburn to SEC series road wins while being named SEC Freshman of the Week.
Daniel Robert leading the team in steals and RBI, playing first base, outfield, pitching -- anything to help his team. Jonah Todd, the walk-on who became an All-SEC outfielder, running down just about everything in center while batting .376.
And Blake Logan, a four-year player from Muscle Shoals, Ala., who began the season with a weeklong hospital stay and ended it by catching every game in the regional.
"It's in great hands," Logan said. "I gave Auburn University my baseball hat for four years and I don't have any regrets whatsoever and to see where I came in from and where we're at and where we're going, I couldn't be more proud."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer