ATLANTA, Ga. (Auburn Athletics) — Steven Williams smashed a three-run home run and drove in a season-high five runs, helping the Tigers defeat Coastal Carolina, 16-7, in the opening game of the NCAA Tournament’s Atlanta Regional Friday afternoon.
Auburn (34-25) tallied 18 hits, with all nine hitters recording at least one. Williams led the hit parade with four hits, while Judd Ward and Ryan Bliss had three apiece. The Tigers’ 16 runs in the game were the most in a regional since 2010 and the program’s third most in regional play all-time.
“We knew there were going to be some runs scored today, especially once we got underway,” head coach Butch Thompson said on the Auburn Sports Network. “We scored early. We came out and scored the two runs in the first, which I thought was huge in the ballgame. The first two hitters in the lineup get six hits. Everybody in the lineup gets a hit. Steven Williams down there at the bottom gets four hits. Just a great day of offense. Probably our best of the season.”
Auburn wasted no time in getting on the scoreboard as the first two batters, Ward and Bliss, singled. Ward advanced to third on Will Holland’s flyout to center, then scored on a balk. Bliss moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Matt Scheffler’s two-out single to left to make it 2-0.
After Coastal Carolina tied with game at two with a run in the top of the third and fourth innings, Auburn scored seven unanswered runs in the middle frames.
The Tigers reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the fourth. After Will Holland’s four-pitch leadoff walk, Edouard Julien singled to left. With the runners moving, Rankin Woley singled to left to score Holland for a 3-2 lead.
Williams followed a towering blast to right – his seventh of the season – to give Auburn a 6-2 lead.
“I just wanted to let the ball travel a little bit,” Williams said. “I’ve been out-in-front, off-balanced a lot of times this year. It’s been a rough year so far, but I really just want to simplify a lot of things, see the ball as long as I can and just try to put a good swing on it.”
On in relief of starting pitcher Jack Owen, Elliott Anderson (6-2, 4.42) set Coastal down in order in the fifth.
In the bottom of the inning, the Tigers added to their advantage after walks to Holland and Julien. Woley’s second RBI single of the game scored Holland, then Williams followed with an RBI single to center to score Julien and increase the lead to 8-2.
Playing in his hometown, Conor Davis kept the scoring going as he blasted a solo shot to left-center to extend Auburn’s led to 9-2 in the sixth.
“I think we’re really comfortable here, being only two hours from Auburn,” Thompson said. “We’ve played here a couple of midweeks the last couple of years. We’re really comfortable here. We know how the field plays, and on the plus side we can get a lot of fans out here.”
Coastal Carolina cut the lead to four on Zach Biermann’s three-run home run off Anderson in the top of the seventh, but Auburn answered with two run in the home half and five more in the next frame.
After the Tigers loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the seventh, Bliss laced a single to left to score Williams and Kason Howell, putting the Tigers on top 11-5.
Williams’ fourth hit, a single to left, scored Julien in the bottom of the eighth. The Tigers added four more on an error, an RBI single by Ward, and a two-run single by Holland.
Coastal scored two runs in the top of the ninth to get to the final score of 16-7.
Anderson earned the win in relief as the junior southpaw pitched 2.2 innings and allowed just one hit, a three-run home run. Anderson struck out four in the outing.
Owen allowed two runs in 3.2 innings and, like Anderson, struck out four with two coming in the first inning. Ryan Watson pitched the final 2.2 innings and matched a career high with five strikeouts.
“I thought Ryan Watson finishing the ballgame was huge,” Thompson added. “Everybody that watches our program knows that it’s a big deal to not have to spend Cody Greenhill. We think that probably helps us for tomorrow.”
Auburn will play Saturday at 6 p.m. CT vs. the winner of Friday’s game between host Georgia Tech (41-17) and Florida A&M (27-32).