CHAPEL HILL, N.C. • Auburn started out so fast on Monday that it all but secured a trip to the College World Series before North Carolina ever sent a batter to the plate.
Judd Ward hit a three-run homer to highlight the Tigers’ 13-run first inning that stunned the host Tar Heels en route to a 14-7 victory, securing Auburn’s first trip to Omaha since 1997.
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.
“They usually have different June plans,” coach Butch Thompson said of Auburn fans. “I hope we have wrecked that for them and they have to find their way to Omaha, Nebraska.”
The Tigers (38-26) finished with the second most runs in an inning of an NCAA Tournament game, which was more than enough to earn the program’s fifth trip to the College World Series.
It took almost three more hours before Auburn could finally celebrate, though, with the Tigers sprinting from the dugout at the final out and flinging water in the air before a meet-in-the-infield pileup.
“Just unreal,” Ward said.
The barrage began when UNC starter Joey Lancellotti walked the game’s first four batters, an early sign of trouble for the Tar Heels’ normally reliable pitching staff. Auburn had nine first-inning hits while North Carolina needed 65 pitches to record three outs before the Tar Heels (46-19) ever took a swing.
“Yeah, it was a long inning,” said UNC first baseman Michael Busch, adding: “Sometimes it’s how baseball works. Today was just one of those days. That’s life.”
Auburn added only an RBI single in the seventh by Rankin Woley after its first-inning tear but finished with 18 hits.
Tar Heels were foiled in their quest to make it back to Omaha for a second straight season and eighth time under longtime coach Mike Fox.
“It’s hard to get this close and then not be able to get there,” Fox said.
Auburn didn’t look likely for this type of run, especially after a frustrating showing in the SEC Tournament.
But 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 a second straight season.
Had Thompson seen signs his team was ready for a big move?
“Not until Atlanta,” he said.