For the first time in program history, Auburn is headed to the NCAA Super Regionals for the second straight year.
The Tigers swept the Atlanta Regional, beating host, and national 3-seed, Georgia Tech twice in two days to become regional champions. Auburn’s pitchers on Sunday dominated the Georgia Tech offense, setting the stage for a 4-1 victory for the Tigers.
"This has probably been the most special weekend for me, personally and professionally, with this group of young men,”said Auburn head coach Butch Thompson. "Our hearts are still really sad, but I think we made a commitment for this entire series. I'd could see it in our guys whenever our backs were against the wall. Some plays were made, some swings were made that affected the outcome."
Bailey Horn got the start for Auburn, and he was lights out from the get-go. He sat down the first seven batters he faced in order, throwing three scoreless innings before a rain delay was called in the middle of the fourth.
Two hours later, Horn was brought back out to pitch in a surprising move by Thompson. Georgia Tech elected to remove its starting pitcher from the game after the lengthy pause in play.
"I knew I wanted to go back out," Horn said. "I had talked to Coach Thompson and Coach Smith about going back out there. I never thought I was going to be out of the game. I knew there was work that still needed to be done and that we still had a lot of game to play."
Horn picked right back up where he left off, though. He pitched another three scoreless innings, allowing only two hits and one walk in six innings of work, a career high.
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Horn struck out four as no Georgia Tech player got into scoring position while he was on the mound.
Cody Greenhill took over in the seventh with Auburn leading 3-0. He struck out the first two batters he faced, then Tristan English hit a solo homer to get Georgia Tech on the board. Greenhill struck out two more in the eighth for a total of four strikeouts on the night. He allowed only one run on one hit.
When the game went into the rain delay, the score was tied at 0-0. Neither offense could get anything going, but Auburn broke things open in the top of the sixth.
Will Holland singled and Edouard Julien reached on an error with one out in the inning. Rankin Woley singled to score Holland, and Auburn took a 1-0 lead. The next batter was Steven Williams, who hit the walkoff, three-run homer against Georgia Tech in Saturday’s game.
Williams did what he has been doing all weekend: getting the big hits. He doubled to score two more, making it a 3-0 lead for the Tigers.
Williams finished the regional with six hits, including two homers and 10 RBIs. He was named the Atlanta Regional MVP. Richard Fitts, Horn, Ryan Bliss, Julien, Judd Ward and Williams were all named to the All-Tournament team.
"That was probably the most complete game we've played all year," Williams said. "Bailey (Horn) came out with a lot of energy and pounded the zone and got a lot of outs. Our offense had quality at-bats throughout the whole game, and that late insurance run was huge. I think we can really build off this."
After the Yellow Jackets got one back in the seventh, Auburn retook its three-run lead in the top of the ninth. Kason Howell got to second on a throwing error, and Ward was intentionally walked to get to Bliss with two outs in the inning. Bliss made them pay for that with a single that allowed Howell to score to make it a 4-1 lead for the Tigers.
Ward made a leaping grab in left field to get the first out of the bottom of the ninth. That was the second time he flashed some impressive defense in the game. Earlier in the game he chased a ball to deep left for a fly-out, then gunned down the runner at first for a 7-3 double play.
A fly-out and line-out ended Georgia Tech’s season and secured Auburn the win. Auburn will face 14-seed North Carolina in Chapel Hill in the Super Regionals. The winner of the best 2-of-3 series moves on to Omaha for the College World Series. Super Regionals are from Friday to Monday with game times TBA.
"Last year, we were expecting a regional (championship)," Greenhill said. "This year, these guys, we've had to work for everything we've got. We weren't picked to win this tournament. We'll get back in on Monday and Tuesday, refocus, and we know we've got a good ball club in North Carolina waiting. We'll come out and bring it."
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