CORVALLIS, Ore. – To get back to Omaha, Auburn successfully navigated the Oregon Trail.
SEC saves leader Blake Burkhalter retired the last eight batters to preserve No. 14 Auburn’s 4-3 victory Monday over No. 3 Oregon State to win the Corvallis Super Regional at Goss Stadium, sending the Tigers to the College World Series for the second time in three seasons.
“We’re thankful,” Auburn coach Butch Thompson said. “To be able to go back to Omaha so soon is a testament to a few guys like Brody Moore, Kason Howell and Carson Skipper who were on that team in 2019. They’ve done an amazing job with half of this team being new this year.”
When Burkhalter struck out OSU’s Garret Forrester for the final out, his teammates met him in front of the pitcher’s mound, piling on in celebration.
“I was mentally ready to go,” said Burkhalter of his 15th save. “I talked to Huddy (Auburn pitching coach Tim Hudson) before and said, ‘How do you think I need to pitch these guys?’ He gave me some tips and I’m glad I could go out there and execute.”
Auburn mustered only one hit in the first five innings, and three in the game, but the Tigers made them count.
After Cole Foster drew a bases-loaded walk with two outs in the top of the third, Sonny DiChiara hit his 22nd home run of the season to give Auburn a 2-0 lead.
“They left one over the plate for me and I was able to put a good bat on it,” said DiChiara, who had two of Auburn’s three hits. “I’m thankful we were able to hold them off.”
Oregon State answered in the bottom of the third when Justin Boyd tripled off the wall in left and scored on a grounder to second to trim the Tigers’ lead to 2-1.
Skipper relieved starter Mason Barnett with one out in the fifth and two runners on, striking out Pac-12 Player of the Year Jacob Melton and Travis Bazzana to escape the jam.
Barnett, Skipper and Burkhalter combined to strike out 14 Oregon State batters.
Auburn added to its lead with two runs in the sixth off Oregon State reliever Reid Sebby. After DiChiara walked, Bobby Peirce doubled to right to put runners on second and third with one out.
Brooks Carlson’s grounder to second scored DiChiara, with Peirce moving to third and Carlson safe at first on a fielding error. Brody Moore’s safety squeeze bunt to first plated Peirce, who beat a throw home for a 4-1 Auburn advantage.
Skipper worked a perfect sixth but the Beavers pulled within a run at 4-3 in the seventh on Boyd’s two-run homer.
When two more runners reached, Auburn called on Burkhalter, who struck out Bazzana and Jake Dukart to preserve Auburn’s one-run lead.
“When Carson Skipper came in and got those two outs, and when we inserted Burkhalter those were game changers,” Thompson said. “We’re able to keep that one-run lead, and Burky got us to the finish line.”
Burkhalter struck out five of the eight batters he faced, including Boyd to lead off the ninth. Skipper fanned four in two innings, earning the victory to improve to 6-3 on the season.
Picked to finish seventh in the SEC West in the coaches’ preseason poll, the Tigers are one of eight teams still in contention for a national championship, joining division rivals Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Arkansas in Omaha this weekend.
“This is awesome,” said Moore, the MVP of Auburn’s NCAA Tournament regional. “What an experience for the Auburn Tigers to come from so many miles away and get it done. We’re not done yet. We’re just a team out there. We mesh well together, we’re best friends on and off the field, and we love this University.”
Making the sixth College World Series appearance in program history, the Tigers (42-20) play Ole Miss Saturday at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN2 and the Auburn Sports Network.