CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The Tigers shook their heads, dropped their bats in frustration and stamped their feet into the Carolina dirt.
The Auburn baseball team missed too many opportunities on Sunday, falling in a 2-0 shutout to North Carolina — and falling into a deciding Game 3 Monday in the NCAA Tournament’s Super Regional in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina scored two runs in the top of the first and that proved to be all the Tar Heels would need on the scoreboard to bounce back from Auburn’s raucous 11-7 Game 1 win on Saturday.
The teams will meet in a winner-take-all showdown set for noon CT Monday with a trip to the College World Series hanging in the balance. The game is set to be broadcast on ESPN2.
On Sunday, North Carolina jumped out to a hot start facing elimination in front of a packed home crowd at Boshamer Stadium. Ike Freeman hit a one out, two-run RBI single out to left center in the opening frame, and from there, Auburn’s bats went 2-for-10 with runners on base and 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position as the Tigers just couldn’t muster a response.
The start mirrored the teams’ Game 1 on Saturday afternoon. North Carolina jumped out to a 3-0 lead at the end of the first inning but the Tigers roared back to win that one.
Sunday, North Carolina kept it from happening.
“Getting out of the first inning’s been a challenge for us the two days,” Auburn head coach Butch Thompson said after the loss. “We overcome it with offense yesterday.
“There toward the end of the ballgame, it didn’t happen.”
What would be Auburn’s last-gasp chance in the bottom of the eighth was turned into a double play on video review in one gut-wrenching instant for the Tigers.
Conor Davis’ led off with single and Jarrett Eaton pinch ran for him. Will Holland hit a ground-ball double-play opportunity and North Carolina’s throw on the turn flew over first base. However, umpire video review ruled there was a slide violation on Eaton into the bag at second base, and Holland was called out as well.
Eduoard Julien struck out a batter later, and North Carolina closed the win in the bottom of the ninth — as one last opportunity slipped through the Tigers’ fingertips.
“You know 280 teams or whatever — their seasons are completed,” Thompson said. “We’ve got an opportunity to come out here tomorrow and play this game again, and (we are) looking forward to it.
“But I tip my hat to Carolina and how they played today.”
North Carolina leadoff hitter Michael Busch started the game with a single in the top of the first to the delight of eager fans in Carolina blue. Second hitter Aaron Sabato drew a walk. Busch and Sabato both raced over home on Freeman’s go-ahead hit.
In the bottom of the first, Auburn loaded the bases with a chance to answer but Rankin Woley, Auburn’s hero from Saturday, struck out swinging to end the opportunity.
In the fourth, Auburn put two on before Kason Howell’s rip toward left was snatched out of the air by the shortstop for a line out. In the fifth, the Tigers put another two on with only one out down and North Carolina starter Austin Bergner gave way to reliever Austin Love, who got out of the frame despite a scare from Auburn. Julien sent a rocket to deep center but it was caught at the warning track to end the inning.
The Tiger offense stranded nine base runners in the loss.
Auburn’s pitching and defense defended home plate after the first. Auburn’s resilient trio of pitchers left 14 North Carolina runners on base, making up for the staff’s nine walks.
Bailey Horn started for Auburn and pitched into the fourth. Ryan Watson came on for him then Elliott Anderson stepped to the mound in the start of the seventh.