Auburn baseball heading to College World Series to face Ole Miss after topping Oregon State

The message was clear as pitching coach Tim Hudson strolled to the mound Monday and gestured toward the bullpen.

Seventh inning? No matter. Blake Burkhalter is the closer. Time to close.

The SEC saves leader had struggled recently, but in a one-run elimination game, the past is irrelevant. Auburn baseball's decision-making reflected that. So did Burkhalter's performance.

With his eight-out save, Auburn is going to the College World Series for the sixth time in program history and the second time in the last four years. The Tigers (41-20) pulled off a super regional upset at No. 3 Oregon State (48-18) that required every suspenseful situation to go their way.

Everything did go their way in a 4-3 Game 3 win despite being out-hit 8-3, a fitting microcosm for this Auburn team that stole wins all season after being picked to finish last place in the SEC West.

Auburn will play another underdog and another SEC West team, Ole Miss, on Saturday (6 p.m. CT, ESPN) in the double-elimination bracket.

You're never out of an inning when Sonny DiChiara looms

The man named Sonny casts a shadow over any inning when his bat is a possibility. He entered Game 3 on an 0-for-7 stretch, but when he stood on deck in the third inning, Oregon State pitcher Jaren Hunter tightened up with two outs and nobody on.

Hunter was cruising – the sinker-baller allowed one hit in the first five innings while inducing 12 groundouts – but walking Cole Foster here was a death sentence. DiChiara sent a 2-2 pitch over left field for his 22nd home run and fourth of the NCAA Tournament.

Auburn never relinquished that lead.

Tigers delivered with runners on, Beavers didn't

The series was decided by how both lineups stepped up with runners on base, especially in scoring position. Auburn did a lot with a little, staging a pair of two-run rallies with one hit each time.

Nursing a 2-1 lead in the sixth, a one-out walk and a Bobby Peirce double set the table. The Tigers pushed the insurance runs across with a fumbled routine groundball to first base, then a safety squeeze.

The Beavers scored on a triple and a groundout, but they were 3-for-15 with runners on base.

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Burkhalter had allowed seven runs in his last 6⅔ innings spread across his last five outings. He allowed the ninth-inning home runs that knocked Auburn out of the SEC Tournament in the first round.

But the game was his with two on and one out in the seventh inning. Auburn's closer struck out back-to-back left-handed batters with the matchups favoring Oregon State and the tying run on third base.

That proved to be the Beavers' last chance in an 0-for-10 evening with runners in scoring position. Burkhalter retired all eight batters for the save of his life.

This article originally appeared on Montgomery Advertiser: Auburn baseball upsets Oregon State to reach College World Series 2022