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Regional champs! Auburn defeats UCLA; advances to NCAA Super Regionals

Sonny DiChiara went 3 for 4 with four RBIs, Nate LaRue added three RBIs and No. 14 overall seed Auburn beat UCLA 11-4

AUBURN, Ala. — After waiting 23 years to dogpile at Plainsman Park, a one-day delay was a small price to pay for the Auburn Tigers. 

Auburn players met at the mound Monday after beating UCLA 11-4, celebrating their dominating sweep through an NCAA regional that saw the Tigers outscore three opponents 51-18. 

After taking a lap around the warning track to thank fans, the Tigers gathered at home plate for a team photo as Prince’s “1999” played, an homage to the last year the Tigers won a regional title at home. 

“Super proud of our team,” Auburn coach Butch Thompson said. “Getting to host this finally, I think we’ve proved to ourselves that we can absolutely play well in this setting. A ton of players contributed, top to bottom of our lineup and defensively. 

“Our offense was the No. 1 key. No. 2 was our three starting pitchers. It’s nice when you’re at this stage and you play your best baseball of the year, and I thought we did that.” 

Resuming a game paused 16 hours earlier by lightning with Auburn leading 9-0 in the sixth inning, pitchers Carson Skipper and Blake Burkhalter recorded the final 11 outs to finish the gem Mason Barnett began Sunday evening. 

UCLA scored two runs in the both the seventh and eighth innings to pull within five, but Auburn added two insurance runs in the top of the ninth on Cole Foster’s sacrifice fly and Sonny DiChiara’s single to center. 

“It’s just surreal,” said DiChiara, the SEC Co-Player of the Year. “We’re so close. I’m happy to be a part of that. To win this regional and go to the next step of a super regional, we’re out there competing and it’s so fun.” 

The visiting team, Auburn sent UCLA to the bullpen early Sunday after the Tigers’ first four batters reached against James Hepp. DiChiara singled home Blake Rambusch, then Brooks Carlson scored Foster with a sacrifice fly off reliever Daniel Colwell for a 2-0 lead. 

UCLA leadoff hitter Cody Schrier doubled on the first pitch of the bottom of the first, but Barnett struck out the side to strand Schrier at second.  

Barnett escaped a jam in the second inning after walking the first two batters, sandwiching a pair of strikeouts between a Kason Howell running catch in deep center field. 

UCLA’s leadoff hitter reached in each of the first three innings, but Barnett fanned six through three to keep the Bruins off the scoreboard, adding a pair of strikeouts in the fourth to equal his season-high of eight. 

Auburn doubled its advantage in the fourth on DiChiara’s bases-loaded single up the middle, scoring Nate LaRue and Rambusch to give the Tigers a 4-0 lead. 

Brody Moore continued his torrid hitting, leading off the fifth with a solo homer to right that put Auburn ahead 5-0.  

“We did this for Auburn,” said Moore, the Regional MVP. “We did this for the university and the people who love this place.” 

Barnett equaled his career high with his ninth strikeout to end the fifth inning, retiring nine straight UCLA batters. 

Auburn pulled away with four runs in the sixth. Carlson greeted UCLA’s fourth pitcher, Jake Saum, with a double to right to score DiChiara, who walked. After a walk to Howell loaded the bases, LaRue cleared them with a double to the gap in left-center, scoring Bobby Peirce, Carlson and Howell to make it 9-0.

Barnett struck out Jake Palmer to lead off the bottom of the sixth, setting his career high with 10 strikeouts. 

When a lightning delay stopped play at 10:42 p.m., Barnett exited to a standing ovation, having shut out the Bruins for 5.1 innings while allowing only one hit.

 “The nerves settled down and I was able to really focus and go pitch by pitch,” said Barnett, who improved to 3-2 with the victory. “Once your name is called, you’ve got to be thankful for the opportunity and take as much advantage of it as you can.” 

Unfazed by a two-hour weather delay Sunday evening, the sold-out crowd remained engaged and enthused, cheering as the all-clear countdown clock expired and filling Plainsman Park with shouts of “Auburn Tigers!” and “Let’s Go Auburn!” 

Thousands of fans returned Monday afternoon, determined to witness program history. Auburn extended its regional win streak to nine, outscoring opponents 117-43 in the process. 

“For our people to come here and help us get to the finish line, this was a special three four days for our program,” Thompson said. 

Auburn (40-19) advances to a super regional for the third time in four seasons. The Tigers will face the winner of Monday’s Oregon State-Vanderbilt game. 

Credit: Grace Schinsing/AU Athletics
Jun 6, 2022; Auburn, AL, USA; XXXXX Grace Schinsing/AU Athletics

Auburn Regional All-Tournament Team

 

P: Mason Barnett (Auburn)

P: Kelly Austin (UCLA)

P: Joseph Gonzalez (Auburn)

C: Nate LaRue (Auburn)
1B: Sonny DiChiara (Auburn)

2B: Cole Foster (Auburn)

3B: Kyle Karros (UCLA)
SS: Brody Moore (Auburn)

OF: Mike Bello (Auburn)

OF: Kason Howell (Auburn)

OF: Carson Yates (UCLA)

DH: Brooks Carlson (Auburn)

 

MVP: Brody Moore (Auburn)

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