To score the first run of the game — the first run of what would be an historic inning — the Tigers basically had to do nothing. The North Carolina starting pitcher walked the first four batters of the game, a run scored. The first of many.
To score the next 12 runs that Auburn did in the first inning, they used their bats. The Tigers sent 17 men to the plate, it lasted 50 minutes, 13 runs scored, 65 pitches were thrown, five walks were taken and there was even an error to extend it along the way.
When it was all said and done, Auburn had done everything it needed to do to advance to its first College World Series in 22 years — and North Carolina hadn’t seen a pitch.
The Tigers were never threatened in their 14-7 win. The defeat exorcised the demons of a heartbreaking extra-inning loss in a Super Regional deciding game last season at North Carolina. Seven Auburn players had multiple hits, and eight players had a hit in the first inning alone.
Judd Ward, who hadn’t reached base in the entire Super Regional, got on base twice in the first inning, including a game-breaking three-run homer to right field. Matt Scheffler, who had been 2-of-22 in the postseason, had a two run single to make it 13-0. And Auburn, which failed to score all of Sunday, scored the second most runs in an NCAA Tournament inning, ever.
Auburn executed its pitching plan perfectly. They decided at the last minute to insert Tanner Burns in a starting role, only to use him early and avoid the first-inning troubles of the first two games. He threw two hitless innings. Richard Fitts came in and allowed five runs in 5.1 innings — on two home runs. Cody Greenhill finished it out again.
Head coach Butch Thompson has referenced the position Auburn was in entering its final game of the regular season. They were staring down the barrel of a 13-17 conference record — and had lost two in a row to LSU, on the verge of a sweep, down two runs in the ninth inning. A loss, and there were no guarantee that AU would make the NCAA Tournament. A two-run homer tied that game, then Auburn won in extra innings.
It’s a testament to the season that was for Auburn. One with injured and unreliable pitching. One with an offense that was shockingly unproductive. But Auburn gave itself a chance, and have taken advantage of that chance in a historic way.
In every game throughout the postseason, Auburn has worn its camouflage hats throughout the NCAA Tournament, with its patch on the back memorializing Rod Bramblett, who was killed in a car crash just two days after the team returned from the SEC Tournament.
The hometown broadcaster was jus in his fourth season when the Tigers last made the College World Series. Before the postseason, Auburn pledged to play for him and his wife Paula. It’s a pledge they’ve spoken about following this postseason’s most magical moments.
Auburn’s run to the College World Series has been nothing short of magical. And with its each win, it’s galvanized a grieving community even more.
And now, they’ll go to the mecca of college baseball, in search of a national championship.