CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Auburn scored 13 runs in the first inning to stun host North Carolina en route to a 14-7 victory Monday that sent the Tigers to the College World Series for the first time since 1997.
Judd Ward hit a three-run homer and Edouard Julien and Matt Scheffler each had two-run singles in the Tigers’ overwhelming opening act, which turned the rest of the deciding game in the best-of-three NCAA super-regional series into a formality.
The Tigers (38-26) finished with the second most runs in an inning of an NCAA Tournament game. The barrage began when UNC starter Joey Lancellotti walked the game’s first four batters, the first sign of trouble for the Tar Heels’ normally reliable pitching staff.
Auburn had nine first-inning hits while UNC needed 65 pitches to record three outs before the Tar Heels (46-19) had even sent a batter to the plate.
It took almost three more hours before Auburn could finally celebrate, with the Tigers sprinting out of the dugout at the final out and flinging water in the air before a meet-in-the-infield pileup.
The Tigers won all three games in last week’s Atlanta Regional, including a sweep of No. 3 national seed and host Georgia Tech, to return to the super regionals for the second straight season. Then the Tigers rallied to beat the Tar Heels in Saturday’s Game 1 — pouncing when the Tar Heels’ bullpen foundered — before losing 2-0 in Sunday’s Game 2 to force the series clincher.
Things were much easier Monday after jumping to a huge lead and easing any significant pressure on the Tigers’ pitching staff. Tanner Burns started and pitched two scoreless innings before Richard Fitts (5-3) followed with 5 1/3 innings of work for the win.
Auburn added only an RBI single in the seventh by Rankin Woley after its first-inning tear but finished with 18 hits.
Ashton McGee hit a three-run homer to right-center for the Tar Heels in the bottom of the fourth, while Aaron Sabato hit a two-run shot in the seventh and a solo one in the ninth. But any home-field energy had long since evaporated before McGee’s blast, along with the chance for the Tar Heels to make it back to Omaha for a second straight season and eighth time under longtime coach Mike Fox.
Lancellotti (6-4) took the loss after throwing just four strikes among his 20 pitches while failing to secure an out.