For the first time since 1997, Auburn is going to the College World Series.
With a 14-7 win over North Carolina in Game 3 of the Super Regionals, Auburn secured its ticket to Omaha after a 13-run first inning for the Tigers. This is the first time the Tigers have won a Super Regional in program history, with the NCAA Tournament adding the round in 1999 when it expanded to a 64-team overall tournament.
"I'm proud of every player that's ever put on an Auburn uniform," said Auburn head coach Butch Thompson. "A special group of guys who hung in there like crazy and I'm proud of them."
All but one Tiger had a hit in the game, with Judd Ward, Rankin Woley and Edouard Julien leading the Tigers’ offense. Ward went 3-for-5 with three RBIs. He was hitless in the Super Regionals going into Game 3, but in his second at-bat of the first Ward hit a three-run homer over the rightfield wall.
Woley was 3-for-6 with two RBIs, and Julien was 3-for-5 with three RBIs. Auburn had 18 hits in the game, with nine in the first inning alone. Auburn was one batter short from batting around twice in the first inning. UNC used four pitchers in the first.
"We knew we had to be locked in, we were trying to score first," Ward said. "The pitcher was a little wild and we were very patient, and got things going."
After getting shut out in Game 2, the game started with four straight walks to get Auburn on the board at 1-0. The first UNC pitching change was made with Connor Ollio coming in for Joey Lancellotti.
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Three singles scored four more runs to give Auburn a 5-0 lead. Hansen Butler took the mound for the Tar Heels, and Ward hit his three-run homer for the 8-0 lead. Two more singles and an error scored another run.
Woley and Julien singled, Julien’s second of the inning, before UNC made another pitching change, bringing in Will Sandy. Will Holland walked then Matt Scheffler singled to score two more. Scheffler was out at second and the nearly 50 minute top of the first inning ended.
"We were sitting there at the hotel last night, on the bus today, saying, 'Let's swing it. Let's score first,'" Woley said. "We put up 13. We didn't want to stop because we knew they're a great hitting team and they could come back at any point. I'm just so happy. This is awesome."
The 13 runs Auburn scored in the first was the second-most ever scored in a single inning in NCAA Tournament history. Auburn’s only run scored after the first came in the seventh inning on a single from Woley that scored Ryan Bliss.
Tanner Burns got the start for the Tigers. He pitched two scoreless innings, allowing no hits and one walk with three strikeouts. Richard Fitts took the mound in the third, pitching a solid 5.1 innings of relief work to earn the win.
"I felt good. I felt like I was ready from the get-go," Fitts said. "That first inning really helped us a lot."
While Fitts did allow six runs on seven hits and three walks, the 14-run cushion from his offense gave him kept Fitts out of serious trouble. Cody Greenhill came in to close out the game in the eighth. He allowed one run on three hits and one walk in 1.2 innings of work.
UNC kept fighting throughout the game, scoring three runs in the fourth, two in the seventh and one in the eighth and ninth. Aaron Sabato hit two home runs in the game, a two-run shot in the seventh and a solo in the ninth. Ashton McGee hit a three-run homer in the fourth. Six of the seven UNC runs came off of the long ball.
Auburn will face SEC opponent Mississippi State in its first game in Omaha. The SEC will have four teams in the College World Series -- Vanderbilt, Auburn, Mississippi State and either Arkansas or Ole Miss. The other teams that have secured a ticket are Michigan, Louisville, Florida State and Texas Tech. The College World Series starts on Saturday, with the official schedule to be announced later.
"To see our players celebrate is special to me," Thompson said. "To see the perseverance, and to see these young men rally around one another, I am proud to be their coach."
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