CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA (AUBURN ATHLETICS) –Rankin Woley hit a three-run double in Auburn’s five-run eighth and Edouard Julien smashed a three-run home run in the ninth as the Tigers rallied to beat North Carolina, 11-7, Saturday at Boshamer Stadium.
Trailing 5-2 entering the eighth inning, Auburn (37-25) got back to within striking distance on a RBI double from Conor Davis and cut North Carolina’s (45-18) lead to one as Ryan Bliss scampered home from third on a wild pitch. Battling with two strikes, Woley’s gave Auburn the lead with his bases-clearing double to highlight the eighth-inning comeback.
“I knew a breaking ball was coming. I like hitting the breaking ball,” Woley said. “I fought a couple off there. I almost swung at one in the dirt. I almost swung at one over my head, but luckily got to the last one, put a good swing on, and got one in the gap.”
After Cody Greenhill entered with the two-run lead and worked a scoreless eighth, Auburn extended its advantage with a four-run top of the ninth. Will Holland hit a sacrifice fly to right field to make it an 8-5 ballgame, before Julien put the exclamation point on the afternoon with his aforementioned home run high off the net beyond the right-field fence.
Greenhill came back out to work the ninth and earned his 12th save of the season, including his eighth on the road or at a neutral site.
“We know that we have much, much work left to do,” Thompson said. “North Carolina reminded us of that today. We have to come out here and keep playing good baseball to have a chance.”
North Carolina scored three runs in the bottom of the first on Aaron Sabato’s RBI double and Ashton McGee’s two-run single.
After the first inning, Auburn starter Jack Owen held the Tar Heels scoreless for the next three innings, inducing a 4-6-3 double play to negate a leadoff single in the bottom of the fourth.
Steven Williams continued his postseason surge in the top of the fifth, following Woley’s single with a line drive to right that cleared the wall 340 feet from home plate and trimmed UNC’s lead to 3-2. In four NCAA Tournament games this season, Williams has hit three home runs and driven in 12.
“It got to 3-2 so I saw a good bit of pitches,” Williams said. “He was pounding a lot of fastballs and a I kept just barely missing them, fouling them off. He finally threw one I could handle and I just put a good swing on it.”
The Tar Heels made it 4-2 in the bottom of the fifth when Ike Freeman singled to left to score Sabato, who had logged his second double.
Elliott Anderson (7-2, 4.43) earned the win in relief of Owen, who pitched five innings, allowing four runs on eight hits while striking out three. The junior southpaw took the mound to start the sixth and retired the Tar Heels in order with help from an acrobatic play by Holland at short.
Julien singled off the wall in right to chase to North Carolina starter Tyler Baum with one out in the top of the seventh. Baum struck out seven in 6.1 innings, allowing four hits.
After North Carolina tacked on a run in the bottom of the seventh on a RBI single from Sabato, Kason Howell led off the top of the eighth with a double to right but was out at third trying to advance on a fielder’s choice. Ryan Bliss singled to right to put runners on the corners with one out, and the Tigers aforementioned five-run rally ensued.
The Tigers scored nine straight runs in the eighth and ninth innings before North Carolina plated a pair in the ninth to make it 11-7. Howell then caught the final out in center with the potential tying run at the plate.
“We’re going to go with the same mentality tomorrow,” Davis said. “I think we just need to stick with our simpler approach, opposite-field approach, and just react on balls. The first one is just huge for us, especially here when we’ll be the home team tomorrow.”
The Tigers will try to take the series Sunday at 10:30 a.m. CT on ESPN and the Auburn Sports Network. Auburn can advance to its first College World Series since 1997 with a win.