Editor's note: This story has been updated with post-game quotes.
You can delay it, but you can’t stop the Tigers right now.
The Auburn baseball team has caught a spark at just the right time, and they defeated UCLA 11-4 on Monday after a series of weather delays to sweep their way through the Regionals and punch a ticket to its first Super Regional since 2018.
"Three out of the last four years the Auburn Tigers can say they are going to a super regional. That’s a big deal," said head coach Butch Thompson. "We proved it to ourselves that we can absolutely play well in this setting... It was nice when you're at this stage, and you play your best baseball of the year as far as the series goes or a collection of games in these three games and I thought we did.”
Batting fifth in a lineup that clicked throughout the Regional, senior Brody Moore was named the Regional MVP. He slashed a 8-for-15 line with a home run, six RBI, six runs scored and three walks in three games. Not to mention, he snagged a key double play to end a critical third inning comeback effort from Florida State.
"Growing up an Auburn fan, the history of my family and this school is really exciting and heartwarming that Auburn gets to witness and be a part of this," Moore said. "I think everybody in the locker room would say the same thing. We did this for Auburn."
The Montgomery native not only has a great impact on the field but has become one of Auburn's greatest leaders throughout the duration of the season.
"His dad was a coach and his dad played here. He's seen it his whole life," Thompson said. "It's really like having another coach on the field. That's the dimension that he brings, where he's helping the guy to his left and to his right."
With 40 runs combined, Auburn’s offense carried them through the first two contests. However, it was the starting pitching that ensured a lopsided win against UCLA. While the offense had another explosive showing, scoring 11 runs on 10 hits. However, it was Auburn's lowest-scoring effort in the Regional, and starter Mason Barnett rose to the challenge and made himself a postseason star.
The junior right-hander has had his share of struggles this season, including his last start against Kentucky where he was tagged for four runs on five hits and two walks in 3.1 innings.
He changed the narrative on Sunday night, ducking and dodging Bruin bats for 10 Ks while only allowing four base runners on just a leadoff double and three walks in an outing that went 5.1 shutout innings that was shortened by a weather delay in the sixth inning. Despite the interruption, he earned the win and improved to 3-2 on the season.
After the rain suspended play on Sunday night and forced the game to pick back up on Monday afternoon, UCLA took advantage of Auburn going to its bullpen, but it wasn't enough.
When play resumed on Monday in the bottom of the sixth, UCLA took advantage of Auburn going to its bullpen and using two guys who haven't pitched the entire series. Carson Skipper looked to pick up where Barnett left off. While he did not keep the shutout, he gave Auburn 1.2 innings of work, giving up two runs on two hits and a pair of strikeouts to set the table for Blake Burkhalter.
Burkhalter finished out the game, going the final two innings, and after allowing two runs in the eighth inning, he shut things down and hurled a shutout ninth frame to end the game.
The team was able to keep their composure against UCLA in a frustrating game, not because of the score, but because of four weather delays and five Auburn batters hit by pitches. Instead of letting tempers flare, Auburn made the Bruins pay with dominant play.
The Tigers struck first for the third time in the Regional, pushing across two in the first inning and getting to starter James Hepp right off the bat.
Auburn scored one run on a single from Sonny DiChiara. After Bobby Pierce walked to be the fourth straight player to reach to start the contest, UCLA went to its bullpen and called on lefty Daniel Colwell.
Colwell put out the flames in the first, inducing three straight fly balls to end the threat, but not before Cole Foster tagged and came to the plate on Brooks Carlson’s sacrifice fly to deep center field to make it 2-0.
Following up the strong first inning showing with two scoreless innings, Colwell acted as the only pitcher to tame Auburn’s relentless bats in the Regional. Once he ran out of gas though, Auburn went back to work.
After Colwell walked two to begin the fourth inning, the Bruins turned to their third hurler of the game, right-handed freshman Luke Jewett. After he hit Foster to load the bases, the third Auburn batter hit by a pitch in the game, DiChiara made them pay for it by stinging a grounder off the mound and up over the shortstop into center field to make it 4-0.
Extending the lead to 5-0, Moore flexed his muscles, bombarding Jewell’s first-pitch fastball for a solo homer for his eighth hit of the Regionals.
When Pierce was struck for the fifth hit batsmen of the game for the Tigers in the sixth, they once again answered back with runs. A double from Carlson scored DiChiara before Auburn reloaded the bases, and Nate LaRue cleared them with a double of his own to make it 9-0.
As if it was on cue, right as Barnett notched his 10th strikeout of the night, the rain returned, and this time it forced play to a halt for the night. At that point, the game was postponed to Monday afternoon, where the two teams resumed play in the bottom of the sixth inning. This cut Barnett's outing short on a day where he had some of the best stuff of the season.
"(The weather delay) was tough, especially when you know you're in a groove, feeling good and making pitches," Barnett said. "You've got to go with what you can control.. as long as we win it doesn't really matter."
When play resumed on Monday afternoon, UCLA got on the board first off of Skipper, who took over for Barnett, knocking in two runs on two hits, a walk and a wild pitch which set up a sacrifice fly for the Bruins.
The Bruins continued their improved play on Monday, as pinch hitter Jack Holman blasted a solo homer in the eighth inning off of Burkhalter to inch closer before an RBI single made it 9-4. The Bruins threatened to further the damage, getting runners on first and second, but Kason Howell turned on the jets and tracked down a fly ball in left-center that hung just a little too long to end the eighth inning.
The Tigers offense refused to be done, though, and they got the last punch in, pushing across two more insurance runs in the ninth on a Cole Foster sacrifice fly and a DiChiara single to set up Burkhalter to get the last three outs to seal Auburn's ninth consecutive Regional win.
DiChiara shined for Auburn against UCLA, going 3-for-4 in the game with two walks and four RBI. He was one of two Auburn players to record multi-hit performances, as Carlson also followed with two hits of his own, going 2-for-5 with two RBI and a run.
The offense has caught fire at the perfect time for the Tigers to start the postseason, as they tallied 51 runs over three games on 49 total hits. All three of their contests were double-digit scoring games, and they finished with a +33 run differential in the Auburn Regional.
Next, Auburn will have a chance to carry its hot streak into a Super Regional in a three-game series with the winner of No. 3 Oregon State and Vanderbilt. The team is already putting their names into the record books, clinching their first Super Regional since 2018, but with a Vanderbilt win over Oregon State, the Tigers will host their first ever Super Regional.
"It would be pretty sick to host a Super Regional, I'll tell you that, but I think everybody in the locker room is at a point where anyone we play, we'll bring it," DiChiara said.
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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.