The Associated Press
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.— Auburn started so fast 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.
“It’s 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 UNC 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’s 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.
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.
“It’s hard to get this close and then not be able to get there,” Fox said.
n Arkansas 14, Ole Miss 1
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas secured a second straight trip to the College World Series by crushing Ole Miss in the deciding game of its super regional.
The Razorbacks (46-18) took control with a four-run second inning, scored three more in the third and added five in the sixth.
Reliever Cody Scroggins worked 4 1/3 scoreless innings, striking out eight, to earn the win. The right-hander replaced starter Patrick Wicklander with two outs and the bases loaded in the second inning with a 2-1 count on the batter.
Scroggins, who signed with Arkansas as a middle infielder before converting to pitcher in 2016, did not walk a batter and gave up two hits, one of them an infield single. He was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the ninth round of this year’s MLB draft.
Arkansas had 12 hits off four Ole Miss pitchers, including six for extra bases, and was 8-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
Right fielder Heston Kjerstad and catcher Casey Opitz each homered and combined for six hits and eight RBIs.
Kjerstad doubled in the second and scored on Opitz’s single to tie the game at 1-1. Jacob Nesbit drove in a run with a single, and Trevor Ezell singled to right to score two more.
Kjerstad doubled into the right-field corner in the third to drive in two runs, and Opitz added an RBI single for a 7-1 lead.
That was more than enough for Scroggins, who had Tommy John surgery in 2017. Monday was his longest outing since March 31, when he went four innings in a start against Ole Miss (41-27) and allowed five hits and walked five in a no-decision.