CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina led 5-2 entering the eighth inning. Then, the game came to life.
In what was a quiet stroll for the North Carolina pitching staff through the first seven innings, the first game of the Chapel Hill Super Regional dramatically changed when Auburn roared to life with nine runs across the final two innings to beat North Carolina 11-7.
Down by three runs, Auburn started the eighth inning with a double from Kason Howell. In the next at bat, Judd Ward reached on a fielder’s choice, and a Howell base-running blunder saw him thrown out at third base. With one out in the inning, Auburn exploded with five runs across the next four at bats.
Ryan Bliss singled to center field to set up Connor Davis with two baserunners. Davis scored Ward on a double into right field, and Bliss would later come home to score on a wild pitch. After Will Holland and Edouard Julien walks, Rankin Woley cleared the bases with a three-RBI double that clipped the top of the center field wall to stay in play. North Carolina would get the next two outs, but the damage was done. Auburn led 7-5 after trailing for seven innings and having only four hits entering the eighth.
Woley finished 2-4 with three RBIs, two strikeouts and a walk.
Cody Greenhill started the bottom of the inning to relieve Elliott Anderson, and he worked a scoreless frame to send Auburn to the ninth looking for insurance runs. With bases loaded, Holland hit a sacrifice fly to score Howell. With two baserunners and two outs, the stage was set for Julien to smash a three-run home run that put Auburn ahead 11-5.
North Carolina scored two runs in the bottom of the inning, and, with the bases loaded, the tying-run came to the plate with two outs. Ashton McGee flied out, and Greenhill sealed Auburn’s comeback victory to claim his 12th save of the season.
Left-handed pitcher Jack Owen received the start for Auburn. The Tar Heels jumped out to a quick three-run lead in the first, but Owen would settle in and throw five innings allowing four runs on eight hits. Auburn struck back in the fifth inning with a two-run home run from Stephen Williams cutting the North Carolina lead to one.
Despite struggling during the regular season, Williams’ bat has come to life in the postseason hitting 7-17 with 12 RBIs and three home runs in the NCAA Tournament, including the walk-off home run against Georgia Tech in the Atlanta Regional.
North Carolina responded in the bottom of the fifth, and they plated another in the seventh inning to restore their lead to three runs.
Anderson earned the victory bringing his record to 7-2. He threw two innings of relief for Owen allowing one run on two hits.
Game two of the series is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Sunday on ESPN.