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Road to Omaha bogs down

UNC forces deciding game 3 with Auburn; Duke ousted by Vandy

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CHAPEL HILL — One day after North Carolina’s bullpen imploded, Austin Bergner and Austin Love combined for a clutch pitching performance in a six-hit, 2-0 shutout of Auburn on Sunday as the Tar Heels forced a deciding Game 3 in the Chapel Hill Super Regional.

Love, who had surrendered two hits and two runs in one inning in Game 1, tied his season high with six strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings of relief in Game 2 to improve his record to 8-4. North Carolina had given up nine runs in the final two innings as Auburn rallied to win Game 1 11-7.

“Yesterday I was falling behind in the count a lot,” Love said. “Today I was trying to make sure every first pitch was a strike.”

North Carolina (46-18) got off to a good start in the first inning against Auburn starter Bailey Horn (4-1) as Ike Freeman delivered a two-run single with one out. But the Tigers (37-26) made timely pitches the rest of the way to stay within striking distance as the Tar Heels tied a season high with 14 runners left on base. Game 3 is Monday.

Bergner, who gave up four hits in 4 1/3 innings, worked out of a jam in the first inning by striking out Rankin Woley with the bases loaded. Auburn also had a chance to score after chasing Bergner with consecutive hits in the fifth.

Love replaced Bergner and got Will Holland to fly out to right field before Edouard Julien hit a blast to center field that was tracked down by Dylan Harris and caught just short of the wall.

“I don’t think Julien could have hit the ball any harder to the deepest part of this ballpark,” said Auburn coach Butch Thompson. “I thought both teams competed like crazy today. I thought it was an unbelievable game.”

Love said his teammates stayed positive with the pitchers after the bullpen’s struggles in Game 1. Love rewarded them by throwing 41 strikes in 50 pitches.

“We were fortunate to get a couple runs early, and then our pitching was just sensational,” North Carolina coach Mike Fox said. “And (Love) out of the bullpen was just a phenomenal performance. We played good defense behind them and got us a win.”

NASHVILLE SUPER REGIONAL

Vanderbilt routs Duke to advance to CWS

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Vanderbilt Commodores finally are headed back to Omaha and the College World Series for the first time since stringing together a national title in 2014 and a runners-up finish in 2015.

The wait hasn’t been easy, especially after losing the super regional on their field a year ago.

That makes this berth even sweeter.

“It’s a very proud and joyous moment when you get to see your players celebrate something like this at the end, particularly for what they’ve been through over the years,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said.

Austin Martin drove in three, hitting two of Vanderbilt’s five home runs, and the Commodores advanced to their fourth College World Series overall by routing Duke 13-2 Sunday to clinch the Nashville Super Regional.

Vanderbilt lost the 2017 super regional in Corvallis, Oregon, to Oregon State, and then battled Mississippi State through three games before losing in 11 innings in Nashville.

These Commodores won the Southeastern Conference regular season and tournament title, and the nation’s No. 2 overall seed matched the program record for most wins in a season with a nation’s best 54 victories. The Commodores, who have won 14 of 15, will play Louisville to open the College World Series.

“I said before the Super Regional started, that I thought they were a historically good team, meaning they’re one of the best teams in college baseball in the last 5 to 10 years,” Duke coach Chris Pollard said. “They have a team that can go to Omaha and win it.”

Duke won the opener 18-5. Then the Commodores struck out 35 over the next two games behind Kumar Rocker’s no-hitter Saturday night before Mason Hickman led four pitchers Sunday with nine of a combined 16 strikeouts.

“Some of that was still a funk of what we had to go through last night,” Pollard said.

Martin led off with a home run to left-centerfield, giving Vandy a 1-0 lead. Ethan Paul reached base on an infield single, then stole second and third with Bill Chillari walking Philip Clarke with one out. Pat DeMarco hit a 3-run home run that hit Memorial Gym beyond the 32-foot-high wall in left.

Patrick Raby (10-1) got the win, striking out four in two innings of relief.

Chillari (2-4) walked the first batter he faced in the second before being pulled. Martin hit his second home run in as many at-bats, a two-run homer to left for a 6-0 lead. Ty Duvall made it 7-1 with an RBI double in the third, and he scored on Julian Infante’s liner down the third base line.

Stephen Scott added a solo homer in the fourth, and Infante hit one in the fifth.

Duke avoided being shut out for a second straight game when Rudy Maxwell, from Brentwood, Tennessee, hit a home run in the third. Michael Rothenberg added a solo homer in the fourth. Duke also got centerfielder Kennie Taylor back in the lineup after being hit by a Rocker pitch near his left eye in his first at-bat Saturday night. He struck out his first four at-bats.

These teams waited out a 3-hour, 10-minute delay before Game 1 Friday night, then sat through a 2-hour, 36-minute delay for lightning with one out in the bottom of the sixth with only a few drops of rain. “It was like, ‘All right we’re going now. We’re not,’” Raby said. “It just seemed like it was never going to get going again.”

The Commodores just keep adding to the school record for home runs in a season. They set the mark at 87 in the regional and added one in the super regional opener before hitting five more Sunday for 92. The previous mark had been 86 set in 1985. Vanderbilt last hit five homers in a game April 20 against Alabama.

Infante was the MVP of the regional with three home runs. Martin drove in six runs in this super regional.

The Blue Devils (35-27) finish still looking for their first College World Series berth since 1961 after their second straight super regional berth.

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