Bottom of the ninth, two outs, two strikes and the winning run at the plate — the ultimate moment of pressure in baseball — and the situation Steven Williams found himself in Saturday night.
Williams rose to the pressure and delivered with a three-run home run to right field, continuing his NCAA Tournament success and giving 2-seed Auburn the 6-5 walkoff win over host Georgia Tech.
Williams’s big hit comes after he shined in Game 1 for Auburn in the Atlanta Regional against Coastal Carolina. Williams had four hits and five RBIs in the Tigers’ 16-7 win over Coastal Carolina. Williams had a three-run homer in that game as well, and he was 4-for-5 in the game. He went 1-for-4 against the Yellow Jackets on Saturday, but the one hit was at the perfect time. He has eight RBIs over the last two games and is 5-for-9 during that stretch.
"Back-to-back days, (Steven) winds up getting a big one yesterday that kind of distanced us,” said Auburn head coach Butch Thompson. “I don't even know what to say about the one tonight."
While Williams was the one getting Gatorade poured over him postgame, there was a second hero of the night for the Tigers.
Richard Fitts came into the game in the top of the fourth with Auburn trailing 5-1. Tanner Burns had started the game, but his pitch count was at 58 after three innings, and the decision was made to pull him since Burns is still trying to come back from shoulder soreness that has plagued him for nearly a month.
Fitts came into the game and was able to stifle a Yellow Jackets offense that had been dominating the Tigers the past two innings. He pitched six innings of scoreless relief, while striking out four and walking none. He allowed four hits.
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“Richard Fitts what a special freshman outing for him. Just amazing," Thompson added. "He just didn't let them score again. That gave us a chance."
The game started off promising for the Tigers, who took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on a Ryan Bliss solo home run. The next two innings were not so positive. Miscues plagued the Tigers in the second, and Georgia Tech scored four unearned runs in an inning that featured a hit batsman, an error, a bloop single that fell between three Tigers, a single that bounced off the pitcher and a wild pitch.
Georgia Tech added to its lead in the top of the third with another run after Auburn went down in order to end the second. Auburn hit into a double play to end the third, and the Tigers needed something to go right to give them a shot to stay in the game. That something was good relief pitching, which Fitts delivered.
"I felt really good about all my pitches," Fitts said. "It's probably the first time all season that I had command over all three. I was really confident. I was trying to give our team the best chance to win. Our hitters did a great. They got 11 hits tonight, and that gets overlooked because of the last hit, but they hung in there all game and they did their job.”
Auburn kept trying to get something going against Georgia Tech starter Connor Thomas, but Auburn kept getting bad contact. The Tigers grounded into four double plays on the night. Auburn scored an unearned run in the bottom of the sixth to get the game within three runs.
In the ninth, Conor Davis reached on an error and Will Holland was hit by a pitch to start the bottom half of the inning. Jared Eaton pinch ran for Davis, and Eaton scored on a single from Rankin Woley. Williams came up to plate as the Tigers’ final hope to avoid Sunday’s elimination game. He hit his home run, securing Auburn its third straight regional final appearance.
"We've been through a lot this season and have had a lot of games where we've had to come from behind," Williams said. "We never thought we were out of it the whole entire game. Once we got a couple of guys on in the ninth, we knew we had something brewing up. We just always keep faith. We know we're a hard working team, and we can get anything done if we put our mind to it."
Auburn will face the winner of the Georgia Tech and Coastal Carolina elimination game in the regional final on Sunday at 5 p.m. CST at Russ Chandler Stadium in Atlanta.
"We've got to stay focused," Thompson said. "I think we just talk about how good this Georgia Tech ball club is. We've seen it three times now how special this club is. We know, we've already faced Coastal Carolina. We'll have to fight. We'll have our hands full. We'll have to come out and just execute and try to stay focused."
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