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A spirit that is not afraid

Auburn sets single-game scoring record, advances to Regional Championship Game

<p>Kason Howell, Nate LaRue and Brody Moore confer during a Florida State pitching change.</p>

Kason Howell, Nate LaRue and Brody Moore confer during a Florida State pitching change.

The Tigers continue to show out in the Regionals with their eighth straight Regional win in a blowout over Florida State, 21-7, to send them to the Regional Championship game.

Auburn proved the lopsided victory on Friday night was no fluke with another explosive offensive showing in front of a sold-out Plainsman Park. It now owns a +26 run differential in its two Regional contests.

"The guys won a significant game tonight to put us in a position to compete for a championship," said head coach Butch Thompson. "We had so many guys contributing in so many ways. Played amazing team offense, just played together for these two nights."

Looking to end Auburn's hot offensive streak, All-ACC Second Team southpaw Bryce Hubbart started strong for FSU, ending the first-inning threat with two strikeouts. However, Auburn battled in every at bat and fought off pitches, forcing Florida State to go to its bullpen after 2.1 innings.

"We didn't score in the first inning, but our approach was still the same," Thompson said. "I like our chances if we stay with that same approach."

A night after scoring a season-high 19 runs, the Tigers notched a new season high, racking up 21 runs on 19 hits. Brody Moore and Kason Howell led the team's offensive explosion, combining to go 9-for-10 including four doubles and a triple with four walks, driving in six runs combined.

Moore had a career night and a perfect scorecard. He went to the plate seven times and reached every time, the first player in program history to do so, going 5-for-5 with a double, triple and two walks while recording five RBI.

“Those games are fun when everybody’s linking it up out there,” Moore said. “It really helps us when we have a pitcher like Joseph [Gonzalez] out there getting outs.”

Brody Moore reaches second base in Auburn's regional win against Florida State. 

This allowed starter Joseph Gonzalez to cruise and pitch to contact. That he did, going six strong innings of three-run ball on just three strikeouts and three hits. His only downfall was the walk, as all three of the runs he allowed reached on walks. He allowed four free passes in the game, and three of them were in the seventh inning before he was pulled from the game.

"(Gonzalez is) the kind of guy you want to play behind as a defender," Moore said. "He's really fast-tempo, and we know he's going to get ground balls and popups, so we have to stay on our toes. We know he's going to go out there and compete for us and give us a chance to win."

Followed by Carson Swilling and John Armstrong, Gonzalez allowed the bullpen to only work three innings. Auburn has gone without using key bullpen pieces like Blake Burkhalter, Carson Skipper and Chase Allsup thus far in Regional action.

The bullpen allowed four runs, but it didn't matter as Auburn continued to tack onto its lead, recording only two frames without scoring a run. Gonzalez earned his seventh win of the season, after his previous two starts were shortened by rain.

The team got off to a slower start than the 11-run outpour in the first inning against SE Louisiana, but they still got on the board and built a 3-1 lead after three innings. Despite stranding five runners to that point, a Mike Bello sacrifice fly and a Brooks Carlson two-run bomb gave Auburn another early advantage. 

Auburn looked to extend the lead off of FSU reliever Conner Whittaker with a double from Howell down the left field line, but the relay beat Moore at home. It seemed as if the catcher blocked the plate, but after review, it was ruled that the catcher was in legal position and Moore's hand missed the plate on his head-first slide around the catcher. A strikeout then stranded Howell at second.

The bottom of the third inning is when FSU threatened to take the driver's seat. After Gonzalez walked the leadoff batter, Alex Toral doubled over Bobby Pierce's head in right field to knock in the Seminoles' first run of the game. 

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With a runner on second and no outs, catcher Nate LaRue got a much-needed first out for Auburn. Throwing behind Toral, he caught the runner off guard and forced Toral to scramble for third, where Blake Rambusch took the tag and got the first out.

From there, Gonzalez walked two more, and FSU was back in business. However, the threat was short-lived, as Moore snagged a hot shot right at him at short stop and tossed the ball to second for a double play to get the runner cheating off the bag for the third out.

"That (double play) was a big out," Gonzalez said. "I trust my defense a lot. That's why I can throw so many strikes and feel comfortable on the mound."

Joseph Gonzalez starts on the mound in Auburn's Regional game against Florida State.

After two replay reviews went the Seminole's way in the first three innings, Auburn had an offensive explosion again in the fourth. Much like Friday's first inning, Auburn sent 14 hitters to the plate and pushed across seven runs. Although Auburn did its job and strung together five hits, FSU helped the Tigers out by handing out four free passes and making a pair of errors. 

When Moore continued his hot hitting with a triple in the fifth, he extended Auburn's lead to 10 runs with an 11-1 lead. He drove in runs in both the seventh and eighth innings as well, along with a bases-loaded walk from LaRue, RBI fielder's choice knock from Bello and a bases-loaded HBP from Cole Foster made it 16-7 after eight innings.

Going into the ninth inning at 16 runs, Auburn launched two more homers, with Sonny DiChiara's 20th of the season and Cam Hill's first before a Bryson Ware triple scored a pair to get to a season-best 21 runs. Armstrong got the final three outs to end the game, and Auburn built on its 12-run victory in game one with a 14-run advantage over FSU.

Fans in the outfield celebrate Brooks Carlson's home run during Auburn's regional win over Florida State.

With two lopsided wins, Auburn (39-19) is yet to use some of its key bullpen pieces, but it is also still yet to compete in a tight game in the Regionals, something Thompson said the team knows will happen.

Next up, Auburn will play again at 6 p.m. CST on Sunday against the winner of UCLA and FSU. Entering the championship undefeated, Auburn will now have to lose twice in a row to be eliminated from the Regional.

"We won't know who we're going to compete against until we get started in our pregame, so that's going to be a big challenge for us tomorrow whether it's Florida State or UCLA," Thompson said. "We'll have to wait a while to figure that out. Thankful for the significance of the standpoint we're at. "

Noah Griffith | Assistant Sports Editor

Noah is a senior in journalism from Salem, Alabama. He joined the Plainsman in August of 2021 after transferring in from Southern Union Community College.

Twitter: @NoahGG01

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