Senior catcher Bobby Huddleston's dramatic two-out, three-run homer put Auburn on top and closer Steven Register shut down the door on the University of North Carolina Tar Heels in the bottom half of the inning to preserve the victory. Huddleston, the SEC Player of the Week, had five RBI in the contest.
Auburn, which improved its record to 14-3, is ranked 11th nationally. UNC, which is 22nd nationally, fell to 7-3 for the season.
The Tar Heels cut the lead in half with a run in the bottom of the first off of starting pitcher Arnold Hughey, who lasted only 1 1/3 innings. He was chased in the second inning as the home team scored four runs. Coming into the contest, Hughey was 3-0 with a 1.50 earned run average.
Justin Webb walked to start the rally and Blair Waggett reached base on a bunt single. Chad Prosser and Jeremy Cleveland add run-scoring singles. Sean Farrell then walked and Sammy Hewitt drove home another run with a single. Ryan Blake's sacrifice fly put the Tar Heels up 5-2 before reliever Chris Dennis could put out the fire.
Dennis allowed just two hits and no runs in four and two-thirds innings and kept his team in the game. "Chris Dennis was outstanding," said Auburn coach Steve Renfroe of the freshman from Madison, Ala., who retired 10 straight batters in one stretch. The Tigers scored a single run in the third inning and trailed 5-3 when he gave way to Levale Speigner in the seventh inning.
The visitors added a pair of runs in the seventh inning vs. the veteran righthander with two outs to stretch the lead to 7-3. Farrell reached on an error by shortstop Chuck Jeroloman and Hewitt followed with a home run.
Jim Miksis, who pitched a scoreless eighth inning for the Tigers, was the winning pitcher after the dramatic rally in the ninth inning that featured a key RBI pinch-hit by Doug Vines to keep hope alive before Huddleston drilled his sixth homer of the season. It was the first Auburn victory for Miksis, a junior transfer from Bevill State Community College.
Scott Schade, Jeroloman and Clete Thomas started the ninth inning rally with three singles to open the inning. The Tar Heels then went to the bullpen and reliever Whitley Benson set down Gamble and Javon Moran. Pinch hitter Doug Vines singled to keep the inning going while cutting the margin to 7-5. Huddleston then drilled a dinger over the left field fence.
"It's a big win," Renfroe said. "I think people need to realize don't ever count this team out because they are resilient."
For the Tigers, it was their first baseball appearance since playing in an NCAA Tournament regional in Gastonia back in 1967. Auburn won that event to qualify for its first ever College World Series appearance.
Game two of the three game series will start at noon CST and the Sunday contest is set for 12:30 p.m. CST as Auburn faces a four-game stretch against nationally ranked ACC teams. On Tuesday, the Tigers will face No. 1-ranked Georgia Tech on Tuesday at Plainsman Park.