In a well-rounded performance it hadn’t seen since Regionals, Auburn baseball defeated Stanford 6-2 in the loser’s bracket to earn its first College World Series win since 1997.
Auburn started Trace Bright on the mound and despite giving up the Cardinal’s only pair of runs, his five-inning outing was the foundation for the win. He allowed just five hits and struck out eight batters through 77 pitches.
“They were aggressive, so being able to flip an off-speed in there, behind in the count, was huge for me. We knew that they were aggressive going in,” Bright said. “I think I got my command later in the first, a little bit, and then better in the third, more so, so that was the biggest thing for me.”
Auburn has now taken down two national seeds and three Pac-12 teams in UCLA, No. 3 Oregon State and No. 2 Stanford. In Auburn’s side of the bracket, the only teams remaining are from the SEC.
“Anytime we can play good teams, we want to represent the SEC well,” said senior Kason Howell. “Obviously it feels good to win against such great teams like Stanford and Oregon State and UCLA. All have great programs. All have great players.”
Stanford gave the start to Drew Dowd, who worked for four innings and shut out the Tigers. Jaden Bruno and Brandt Pancer took the final two innings and they, too, allowed no runs. The issues came through the middle of the game.
The Auburn bats were slow to come alive, but they did not slow down once they did. The Tigers recorded their first hit in the second, a lone Cole Foster double that was not answered until the fourth, when Brody Moore led off the inning with a single. Neither hit resulted in a run, but they were an indication of what was to come.
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“(Foster) was fighting the heat, which was amazing for him to finish that game, all nine innings was big for him,” Bright said. “I know that the offense was about to heat up at some point. I knew that they had our back.”
Foster exited game one against Ole Miss due to an unspecified illness and spent his spare time cooling off in the shade of the tunnel, but he stayed strong and was one of a trio of Tigers to record multiple hits.
Moore’s single was the first of four lead-off runners for the Tigers, something that the team has struggled to achieve lately. In the fifth, it came from Brooks Carlson and in the sixth, it came from a Mike Bello single that became the first Auburn run of the day.
“My favorite offensive inning was the fifth,” said head coach Butch Thompson. “We bunted the ball too hard for the first out. We did a first-and-third and we delayed too much from leaving at third…It was goofy baseball, but we scored four runs the very next inning because it just seems like we got each other's attention.”
Bello’s single was followed by a deluge of singles, doubles, hit batters and walks that ultimately totaled four runs in four hits, enough for a winning margin.
Cardinal Quinn Mathews was the change that Auburn capitalized on. The junior lefty went three innings and gave up all six of the Tigers’ runs, finishing his outing with just one strikeout.
Tommy Sheehan took over for Auburn in the sixth and did not let his team down. He gave up three hits, zero runs and added three strikeouts before passing the baton to closer Blake Burkhalter in the bottom of the seventh.
In the seventh, the Auburn batters tacked on two insurance runs by way of a walk to Bello and hits from Blake Rambusch and Bobby Peirce. The trio scored Bryson Ware, as the runner for Bello, and Rambusch from second.
Burkhalter inherited a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the seventh, but struck out his first batter to hold on to the lead. In the final two innings, he struck out four and gave up one single before recording the save for Auburn.
“The bases are loaded but you kind of have to flush it,” Burkhalter said. “Your main focus is that first guy out of the pen. That's what we focus on as a bullpen: coming in there and being able to command some pitches. I mean, I don't think I had my fastball command all day. But the cutter was working. The changeup was working. That’s what I had to lean on.”
Auburn advances to play again Tuesday night at 6 p.m. CST against either Arkansas or Ole Miss, depending on who wins Monday’s night contest. The road to the championship is now four must-win games in four days.
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