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AU Top 10: Re-living Auburn athletics’ triumphant moments in 2018-19

Sometime this summer, another long box will make its way to campus at Auburn — another package, another signature and another delivery.

Another banner will be ready to unfurl over the Plains.

It’s been that kind of year across school athletics in 2018-19, which saw the Tigers reach widespread success on the basketball court, the baseball diamond, the gymnastics mat and more.

All told, Auburn competed in the postseason in most the varsity sports it fielded during this past academic calendar year, with some programs winning championships, reaching new heights, and calling for new banners to be printed immortalizing some special seasons.

Here’s a look back at some of Auburn’s most triumphant moments in athletics in 2018-19:

10. Horses in the back

Auburn Equestrian Championship Celebration

Auburn's equestrian team walks through Toomer's Corner for a celebration of the team's 2019 NCEA National Championship on Tuesday, April 23.

Auburn equestrian rode its way to yet another NCEA Championship this spring — and this time around, reached even greater heights completing the NCEA’s first-ever undefeated season by going 18-0 on the way to the national championship. The title marked Auburn’s sixth overall and the Tigers’ third in the last four years. Auburn beat Georgia 8-7 in Waco, Texas, on April 20 to win the championship. The teams were locked 7-7 with one ride remaining in Equitation Over Fences, before senior Ashton Alexander completed Auburn’s title ride.

9. Steven Williams strikes

Steven Williams

Steven Williams charges across home plate after hitting a game-winning three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to beat Georgia Tech 6-5 in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday night.

With a crack of his bat that struck Atlanta like a lightning bolt, Auburn right fielder Steven Williams blasted a walk-off, two-out, three-run home run out toward the skyline and into immortality on June 1 at Georgia Tech’s Russ Chandler Stadium, rallying Auburn to an electric NCAA Tournament win over the regional hosts, and in many ways kick-starting the Tigers’ magic ride to the College World Series. The Tigers’ wild ride could’ve ended there in Atlanta that weekend if it wasn’t for Williams — the same player who saw last year’s Super Regional slip through his glove — roaring in the biggest moment to lift Auburn to a thrilling win. Williams watched Florida’s game-winning home run slip out of his glove and over the fence in Game 3 of the Super Regional between the Tigers and Gators at the end of the 2018 season. Poetically, his walk-off shot helped ignite Auburn’s fiery run to Omaha this season.

8. Tide rolled

Auburn Alabama wbb

Auburn's Crystal Primm (23) defends Alabama's Megan Abrams (1) during the team's game Sunday in Auburn Arena. (Justin Lee/jlee@oanow.com)

The Auburn men’s and women’s basketball teams swept rival Alabama 5-0 in five total games this season, and the Tigers’ romp over the Tide highlighted best by the Auburn women’s basketball team’s 77-38 beat-down of Alabama on February 17 at home. Auburn led Alabama 38-12 at halftime in what quickly turned into a celebration for Tigers senior point guard Janiah McKay and her classmates, who left a legacy for the program and head coach Terri Williams-Flournoy. The Auburn women capped their season by making the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons. They beat Alabama 66-56 in Tuscaloosa in January, then at home before beating the Tide 53-52 in the SEC Tournament in March. Auburn men’s basketball beat Alabama 84-63 at home and 66-60 in Tuscaloosa in its own sweep.

7. Smash in Nashville

Auburn vs. Tennessee, SEC Tournament championship

Auburn's Malik Dunbar celebrates after defeating Tennessee in the championship game of the NCAA Southeastern Conference basketball tournament Sunday, March 17, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. Auburn won 84-64. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

Bruce Pearl could hardly contain his smile in the late stages of his team’s powerful performance on March 17 in Nashville. It may not have had anything to do with beating his former program, or winning his second championship in two seasons. After all, standing in front of the bench as Auburn fans cheered out all around him, he could’ve been more focused on the fact that his Tigers players were finally reaching their full potential. The Auburn men’s basketball team blasted Tennessee 84-64 in the SEC Tournament title game then, capping a four game run in four special days in the Music City that won Auburn its first SEC Tournament title since 1985, and, finally, saw Auburn’s gang of players start to reach their ability — and flash their unrelenting confidence. That ride in Nashville led to more March magic in the NCAA Tournament.

6. All Gus, no brakes

2018 Music City Bowl

Auburn's Anthony Schwartz (5) runs with the ball in the first half. Auburn Tigers vs. Purdue Boilermakers in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Friday, Dec. 28, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn.

With head coach Gus Malzahn back with the play sheet in hand, the Auburn football team blasted Purdue 63-14 in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 28, playing fast and thrilling Auburn fans again as the Tigers’ high-powered offense exploded in Malzahn’s first game back as the offense’s play-caller. Auburn scored touchdowns on each of its first seven offensive drives, quickly turning the bowl game into a celebration for orange and blue. Malzahn called plays for the first time since the 2016 season. The win sent Auburn firing into the offseason and ahead to the 2019 season, in which Malzahn will surely be under a proverbial microscope all year, fighting out from the corner with his play sheet back in hand.

5. Masters swing

Jovan Rebula

Jovan Rebula Auburn men's golf during the Tiger Invitational on Sunday, February 24, 2019, in Auburn, Ala. 

Jovan Rebula probably took a deep breath somewhere between those old oaks in Augusta, Ga., and sometime before gripping his club for another swing on golf’s hallowed grounds — and he just might have bottled up that feeling to bring it back to campus. The Auburn men’s golfer played in the Masters this April, and later in the same month won an individualist title at the SEC Championships to cap a wild month for the junior. He also competed in the 2018 British Open last summer and in the U.S. Open just this month, after winning the British Amateur in 2018 to punch his ticket to golf’s most prestigious events. That was before his junior season at Auburn teed off. With him in the lineup this season, Auburn men’s golf won its host Tiger Invitational at Grand National in Opelika, and went to the SEC Championship capturing the top seed after stroke play as Rebula won the individual crown. Auburn ultimately fell in the match play finals. Auburn finished 12th at the NCAA Championships.

4. Golf’s Final Four

Auburn celebrates at NCAA Regional

The Auburn women's golf team celebrates its fifth-place finish at the NCAA Auburn Regional at Saugahatchee Country Club in Opelika this week, punching the Tigers' ticket in as a qualifier for the national tournament later this month. (Justin Lee/jlee@oanow.com)

It’s called Blessings Golf Club. That’s where the Auburn women’s golfers found their magic — on a special round back on May 21 in Fayetteville, Ark. In one wild round, and with a few clutch putts on No. 18, the Tigers upset top-seeded Texas 3-2 in a match-play stunner in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals, sending Auburn to the national semifinals. Auburn stood among the country’s last four teams remaining before the Tigers ultimately fell to Wake Forest to end the run. Earlier in the postseason, Auburn charged back over the final two rounds of its host regional at Saugahatchee Country Club in Opelika to take fifth and qualify for the NCAA Championships. There, the Tigers roared their loudest on the biggest stage.

3. Gobourne goes far

Auburn gymnastics vs. Georgia

Auburn's Derrian Gobourne on the beam. Auburn gymnastics vs. Georgia on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, at the Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala.

On a chilly January night, Auburn Arena was hot and rocking, when Derrian Gobourne tumbled down the floor to send Tigers fans into a roar. The Auburn gymnastics team’s true freshman soared, flipped and stuck her double pike to end a thrilling early season routine, and helped push Auburn to a program-lifting win over rival Georgia in Auburn on Jan. 25. That was part of Auburn’s best-ever 5-0 start to the season, and one of its five SEC wins that gave the Tigers their best regular-season finish in the conference standings in school history — second for the first time ever. Gobourne went on to represent Auburn on the vault at the NCAA Championships. She scored a 9.550 on the floor that night against Georgia, coming in clutch with the meet on the line down to the final few routines on the last rotation of the night. One judge awarded her routine a perfect 10.

2. Tigers roar to Omaha

PHOTOS: Auburn vs. North Carolina, Super Regional Game 3

Auburn's Conor Davis salutes the fans after scoring a run in the Tigers' 13-run rally in the bottom of the first inning Monday in the team's Super Regional showdown with North Carolina at Boshamer Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C. (Justin Lee/jlee@oanow.com)

The Tigers were against the ropes in Chapel Hill — and came out swinging. Auburn baseball rolled up 13 runs in an indescribable first inning and beat North Carolina 14-7 on June 10 in Game 3 of the teams’ Super Regional to push Auburn to the College World Series in Omaha for the first time in 22 years. Auburn faced elimination for the first time in the NCAA Tournament that day. The Tigers had charged back to win Game 1 11-7 two days earlier, before being shut down and shutout in a 2-0 loss in Game 2, putting the Tar Heels back in control on their home field going into the winner-take-all decider. That’s when Auburn exploded out of the gate in a roaring first inning, that led to the Tigers’ dogpile under the Carolina sky at the game’s end, celebrating the program’s first trip to Omaha since 1997.

1. One magic night in Kansas City

NCAA Auburn Kentucky Basketball

Auburn players celebrate after the Midwest Regional final game against Kentucky in the NCAA men's College basketball tournament Sunday, March 31, 2019, in Kansas City, Mo. Auburn won 77-71 in overtime. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

It was like a fairytale. Auburn beat Kentucky 77-71 in a storybook overtime thriller on one magic night in Kansas City back on March 31 — all in a moment that will live immortal for as long as Auburn University stands. They poured to Toomer’s Corner and danced in the streets there that same night, after the Tigers rallied in KC with injured star Chuma Okeke on their heart and behind their bench, slaying the ultimate dragon, Kentucky of all teams, to send Auburn to the men’s basketball Final Four for the first time ever. Auburn’s win over Kentucky in the Elite Eight was every bit the magic only sports can produce — and every bit the epic story that will be told on the Plains for years and years to come.

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