CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Conor Davis pushed through the pats on the shoulder and the fist bumps with his teammates at home plate, and looked up to the stands behind the Auburn dugout.
He lifted his arm in the air, right up there with those cheering fans in orange and blue, all reaching for the sky in joy while the Tigers team roared in celebration on the field below.
Their dream was coming true together. Auburn was on its way to Omaha.
Auburn blasted North Carolina 14-7 in its winner-take-all Game 3 showdown Monday in Chapel Hill, rolling up 13 runs in an indescribable first inning, then turning Carolina country into an Auburn celebration as the Tigers punched their ticket to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., for the first time since 1997.
Davis’ score came as part of that first-inning rally, on a two-run hit to right by Edouard Julien, before Judd Ward smashed a three-run homer. Will Holland, Rankin Woley, Matt Scheffler and others drove in big runs.
They all played a part in carrying Auburn to its fifth appearance at the College World Series.
“Words can’t describe it,” Ward said under the stadium, after the team’s dogpile celebration in the infield at the end of the ninth. “It’s something that we’ve dreamed of ever since we can remember. … It’s just unreal.”
Auburn and North Carolina entered Monday’s showdown on edge and in for an elimination fight, arriving at Boshamer Stadium for the deciding Game 3 of their up-and-down Super Regional series. Auburn came back to win Saturday’s opener 11-7 before the Tar Heels shut out Auburn 2-0 on Sunday.
But in the biggest moment, on the biggest stage yet, backed into a corner and facing elimination, the Tigers roared from the brink and made program history.
Auburn led 13-0 after the first inning, piling up runs in an all-Auburn celebration.
It was Auburn’s day again.
“We felt the fans this whole time,” Davis said, on his look up to the crowd amid the Tigers’ huge charge. “They had been here for two days before this. We got shut out yesterday, and they were still after the game like, ‘Alright, we’re going to get them tomorrow. We’re going to get them tomorrow.’
“There wasn’t one run that the fans weren’t going crazy for. They were in it. They were in it for all nine (innings). We just love the Auburn Family and all the support they give us. I know that we’ll get a good crowd in Omaha.”
North Carolina scored three runs in the fourth and two more in the bottom of the seventh just after Auburn tacked on one more in the top of the seventh, making it 14-5 going into the eighth.
That’s when closer Cody Greenhill came on to complete the Auburn pitching staff’s workhorse effort at the end of the series.
Limited staff ace Tanner Burns gave the Tigers what he had when they needed him most, starting and firing two scoreless innings for Auburn despite his battle through tightness in his shoulder that’s lasted since he was injured in an April series at Vanderbilt.
He gave way to freshman Richard Fitts in the third, who battled into the eighth, before stepping out for Greenhill with two on.
Greenhill pitched already in the series on Saturday, but stepped in to give up one run but no more, after Steven Williams raced down a fly out in deep right to end the inning. North Carolina tacked on one more run in the bottom of the ninth before Auburn dogpiled together on the infield.
“We’ve gone through so much this year,” Williams said. “People definitely didn’t think we’d be in this situation right now. I’m just so proud of every single one of the guys.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
In each of the series’ first two games, North Carolina started hot. The Tar Heels jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first in the opener before Auburn charged back from behind. In Game 2, the two runs North Carolina scored in the top of the first inning were enough to win the game in the shutout.
Monday was different.
“We knew we had to come out hot,” Williams said. “Our motto was kind of like, ‘Win the first inning.’ They had come out and they had put some runs up the first two innings the first two games. We really wanted to get off to a hot start.
“When everyone’s hitting, everyone’s driving in runs, everyone’s scoring runs — I mean, it can’t get any better than that,” he said.
And it doesn’t get much better than Omaha.
Fourth-year Auburn baseball head coach Butch Thompson helped drive Auburn there. Auburn missed the postseason his first year on the Plains, made it to the Regional round the next, made it to the Super Regional round last year and now has progressed on to the College World Series.