OMAHA, Nebraska—With the season on the line at the College Baseball World Series, the Auburn Tigers (43-21) got one of the best pitching performances of the season in a 6-2 win over the Stanford Cardinal to advance to Tuesday night to play the loser of Arkansas-Ole Miss. Starter Trace Bright picked up the win, allowing just two runs on five hits in five innings of work, while relievers Tommy Sheehan and Blake Burkhalter pitched the final four innings to give the Tigers their first win at the College World Series since 1997.
“Trace Bright, I think I gained more respect today for him than ever,” Coach Butch Thompson said. “He was one hitter away, I don’t know if he knows that, but he was one hitter away from coming out in the third inning, but he weathered the storm. We were interested to see if our fastball would survive. The first two runs came off breaking balls that weren’t our best breaking balls. He held it together and came back out with his fastball and got us all the way through the fifth.
“Sheehan gave us an inning. I’m a pitching guy, so I’m always thinking how important that is. With two outs in the seventh and they’re at their three-hole, I know how important it is to get Burky in the game. Got out of that and we were able to get through the eighth and ninth inning.”
The story of the game for the Tigers was the ability of the offense to get to Stanford ace Quinn Mathews. Entering the game 9-1 overall with a 2.62 ERA and nine saves, Mathews had allowed just seven earned runs in his last 11 appearances dating back to a May 6 outing against California.
On Monday, Auburn touched him up in a relief appearance for six earned runs on six hits in three innings to overcome a 2-0 deficit after five innings with second baseman Cole Foster the offensive star of the game.
Leaving Saturday’s game after five innings because of a stomach bug, Foster had two doubles and three runs batted in for the Tigers in the win while Blake Rambusch and Kason Howell both added two hits in the win.
It didn’t take long for Stanford to strike and take the lead on a brutally hot day at Charles Schwab Field. Following a single by leadoff man Brock Jones to open the bottom of the first, the Cardinal got a one out double from Brett Barrera to take the 1-0 lead after one inning.
In the top of the second, Auburn got its first hit of the day when Cole Foster doubled with two outs, but a Kason Howell pop up ended the inning with the Tigers down a run.
Stanford would add to the lead in the bottom of the second with more extra-base hits. With one out Tommy Troy doubled to left field to put the Pac-12 champions in business again. Following a groundout to move the runner to third, number nine hitter Adam Crampton doubled down the left field line to push the lead to a pair of Stanford after just two innings.
Auburn didn’t threaten until the top of the fifth inning when Brooks Carlson got the Tigers going with a double to left field. Following a walk to Cole Foster to put runners on first and second with nobody out, Going to the bullpen for top reliever Quinn Mathews, Stanford was all in for the moment.
With senior Howell coming to the plate and the Tigers down two, Auburn tried to move the runners with a bunt, but Mathews got off the mound and threw to third to retire Carlson for the first out. Following a Nate LaRue fly ball to right field that would easily scored the run, the Tigers attempted a double steal, but Foster was thrown out to end the frame.
In the bottom of the fifth the Cardinal would again threaten against Bright. Following a leadoff single and a sacrifice bunt, Eddie Park stole third with one out and the top of the Stanford order due up. Coming up big, Bright struck out Jones and Carter Graham to end the inning and give Auburn some momentum for the first time in the game.
Keeping the pressure on Mathews, the Tigers got a leadoff single from Mike Bello and when Blake Rambusch singled through the left side, once again Auburn was in business. Following a Brody Moore fly ball for the first out, Sonny DiChiara was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Peirce.
Driving in Auburn’s only run of the game on Saturday, Peirce worked a walk to put the Tigers on the board and keep the bases loaded. A Carlson strikeout meant it was up to Foster with two outs to provide some punch at the plate. Already with one double in the game, the sophomore roped a 1-1 pitch off the wall in left center field a double to clear the bases and put Auburn up 4-2.
“It was huge,” Howell said of the swing from Foster. “We lost a lot of 3-2 counts and we were battling. Offensively, we haven’t been where we wanted the last couple of games. Cole really put a spark into our offense. You could tell, everyone’s at-bats were a little bit more on the attack after Cole’s big swing.”
With Sheehan coming on to pitch a scoreless sixth, the Tigers went back to work in the seventh to add to the lead. It was Bello who got Auburn going once again with a leadoff walk. Pinch running for Bello at first, Bryson Ware then made one of the plays of the game for Auburn.
Reading the ball off the bat of Rambusch on a liner to left, Ware never slowed down rounding second and slid into third. That allowed Rambusch to scamper to second for a double to put runners in scoring position with nobody out.
Doing his job, Moore’s fly ball easily scored Ware to push the Auburn lead to three. Following a DiChiara fly ball for the second out, Peirce again came through in the clutch with a double to score Rambusch and give the Tigers a four run lead.
They would need all of them thanks to an uprising from Stanford in the bottom of the seventh. With Sheehan still in the game, Auburn retired the first two batters before Crampton lined a ball to left field that Ware misjudged. It wound up going for a double and when a hit batter and a single followed to load the bases, it was Burkhalter time.
Coming on to face Barrera, Burkhalter pushed the count full before getting him swinging to end the inning and leave the bases loaded.
Slamming the door shut on Stanford, Burkhalter pitched scoreless innings in both the eighth and ninth to secure the victory and his 16th save of the year on a day he struck out five batters and his team combined for 16 strikeouts.
The Tigers are scheduled to play at 6 p.m. CDT on Tuesday vs. the loser of the Ole Miss vs. Arkansas game.
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