Exploding for 13 runs in the top of the first inning — the second-most prolific inning in NCAA Tournament history — Auburn advanced to the College World Series for the first time since 1997, beating North Carolina, 14-7, Monday to claim the Chapel Hill Super Regional.
“To see our players celebrate is special to me,” Auburn coach Butch Thompson said. “To see the perseverance and to see these young men rally around one another, I am proud to be their coach.”
Auburn nearly batted around twice in the top of the first inning against four North Carolina pitchers, sending 17 batters to the plate and logging nine hits in a half-inning that lasted 49 minutes.
Only LSU’s 18-run seventh inning in a 29-13 win over Georgia Tech in 1996 surpassed Auburn’s output in NCAA Tournament play. The 13 runs in the inning were also the most by the Tigers since scoring 14 runs in the first inning against Mercer on April 4, 2000.
The Tigers led off the game with four straight walks, to Judd Ward, Ryan Bliss, Conor Davis and Steven Williams, which forced in Ward for a 1-0 lead and ended the outing for North Carolina starter Joey Lancellotti, who took the loss.
Edouard Julien singled to right, scoring Bliss and Davis to make it 3-0. Will Holland’s bunt single plated Williams for a 4-0 lead, then Kason Howell singled to right to score Julien for a 5-0 advantage. Ward crushed a three-run home run to right to make it 8-0.
“We knew we had to be locked in; we were trying to score first,” Ward said. “The pitcher was a little wild and we were very patient and got things going.”
Auburn scored its ninth run in the inning when an error by UNC’s second baseman allowed Bliss to score.
Rankin Woley singled to center to bring home Davis for a 10-0 lead.
“We were sitting there at the hotel last night, on the bus today, saying, ‘Let’s swing it. Let’s score first,’” Woley said. “We put up 13. We didn’t want to stop because we knew they’re a great hitting team and they could come back at any point. I’m just so happy. This is awesome.”
Julien’s second hit of the inning beat the Tar Heels’ shift on a grounder through the left side, scoring Williams for an 11-0 lead. Matt Scheffler singled to left to score Julien and Woley for the inning’s final runs.
Tanner Burns started for Auburn, pitching two shutout innings while striking out three without allowing a hit.
Richard Fitts (5-3, 5.49) earned the victory, pitching 5.1 innings while striking out four. Cody Greenhill pitched the final 1.2 innings, celebrating in the infield with teammates while a vocal Auburn fan contingent cheered.
Auburn had 18 hits, with seven Tigers recording at least two. Ward, Woley and Julien each had three.
Auburn becomes the first team to defeat the Tar Heels in a Chapel Hill Super Regional. North Carolina had advanced to Omaha in each of the six previous supers it hosted.
The Tigers (38-26) will play SEC West rival Mississippi State this weekend in Auburn’s first game in Omaha in 22 years.
“I’m proud of every player that’s ever put on an Auburn uniform,” Thompson said. “A special group of guys who hung in there like crazy and I’m proud of them.”