Auburn makes it to super regional
Published 1:10 pm Tuesday, June 4, 2019
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
ATLANTA – They’re two wins away from a trip to Omaha.
With Sunday’s 4-1 victory over Georgia Tech, Ryan Bliss and the Auburn Tigers won their four-team regional and advanced to the super-regional to face North Carolina.
North Carolina will host the best-of-three series, with the winner advancing to the College World Series in Omaha.
Bliss, a freshman from Troup High, is a key reason Auburn is still playing.
Auburn went 3-0 in the regional, and Bliss made a major impact in each game.
Bliss had six hits and two walks in the three games combined, and he had four RBIs and three runs scored.
Bliss showed off his power in Saturday’s dramatic 6-5 win over Georgia Tech when he hit a solo home run in the second inning.
Bliss also excelled defensively, playing flawless defense at second base, and he caught a lineout for the final out of Sunday’s regional-clinching victory.
Auburn began the regional with a suspense-free 16-7 win over Coastal Carolina on Friday.
Bliss had three hits, three RBIs and two runs scored in the blowout win.
Next up for Auburn was Saturday’s showdown with Georgia Tech, the regional’s number one seed and the home team.
Bliss got things started with a bang, with his home run in the first inning giving Auburn a 1-0 lead.
Georgia Tech led 5-1 after three innings, though, and it was still ahead 5-2 heading to the ninth inning.
Auburn was trailing 5-3 when Steven Williams stepped to the plate with two outs and two men on.
On a two-strike pitch, Williams drove the ball over the right-field fence, giving Auburn the thrilling 6-5 win.
In Sunday’s rematch, Bailey Horn and Cody Greenhill combined for a three-hitter as Auburn won 4-1 to advance.
Bliss had two of Auburn’s seven hits, and his RBI single in the top of the ninth inning gave his team a critical insurance run.
It was an emotional weekend not just because of the dramatic nature of the games, but because Auburn was playing a week after the death of long-time play-by-play man Rod Bramblett.
“This has probably been the most special weekend for me, personally and professionally, with this group of young men,” Auburn head coach Butch Thompson said. “Our hearts are still really sad, but I think we made a commitment for this entire series. I’d could see it in our guys whenever our backs were against the wall. Some plays were made, some swings were made that affected the outcome.”
While Bliss had a big series and made the all-tournament team, the MVP was Williams, who went 6-for-13 with two home runs, including his epic walk-off blast on Saturday night.
“We’ve been through a lot this season and have had a lot of games where we’ve had to come from behind,” Williams said. “We never thought we were out of it the whole entire game. Once we got a couple of guys on in the ninth, we knew we had something brewing up. We just always keep faith. We know we’re a hard working team, and we can get anything done if we put our mind to it.”
Williams hit another home run on Sunday as Auburn completed its perfect stay in the regional.
“That was probably the most complete game we’ve played all year,” Williams said. “Bailey (Horn) came out with a lot of energy and pounded the zone and got a lot of outs. Our offense had quality at-bats throughout the whole game, and that late insurance run was huge. I think we can really build off this.”
Bliss started at second base in all three of the regional games, and that’s nothing new.
Bliss is the only Auburn player who has started every game this season, and he has had a terrific debut season.
Bliss is hitting .279 with a .370 on-base percentage, and he has three home runs, 10 doubles, 37 RBIs and 44 runs scored, all while playing impeccable defense.
Bliss and his teammates will try to keep it going this weekend at North Carolina.
Auburn was in this same position a year ago, and it lost a hard-fought series to Florida in the super regional.
Auburn is attempting to get to the College World Series for the first time since 1997.
“It’s special for us to get to go to back-to-back super regionals,” Thompson said.
The coach added that he’s “thankful to be part of such a special university. Crowds were amazing for both teams. And I do have to tip my cap to our faithful, after all we’ve been through, for them to show up en masse and lock shields with us for this regional says a lot about the true blue Auburn fans.”