ATLANTA — Will Holland slid over home plate, and looked up from the dirt to see the celebration.
His Tigers teammates jumped in excitement, and in the stands behind them the Auburn fans threw their arms up and roared into the Georgia evening air.
This was Auburn’s night.
Holland scored the go-ahead run on a Rankin Woley RBI single in the top of the sixth, then Steven Williams doubled to left to push Woley and Edouard Julien home, and that three-run rally lifted Auburn to the Super Regional round, and a 4-1 win over Georgia Tech on Sunday at Russ Chandler Stadium.
Auburn won its second straight NCAA Tournament regional, and advances to challenge North Carolina next weekend in Chapel Hill, N.C., for a spot in the College World Series.
Auburn broke a scoreless tie with its three-run rally in the sixth, after enduring a near-two-hour weather delay, before staving off a Yellow Jackets stab, bringing back an insurance run in the ninth, and ultimately eliminating Georgia Tech in the regional finals.
Auburn won a region in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time in program history.
“This is probably the most special weekend for me personally and professionally, with this group of young men, how they rose up,” Auburn head coach Butch Thompson said after the win, looking back on more than a dozen regionals he’s been a part of as an assistant coach and a head coach, and searching to put it all into words.
“So much emotion, so much heart. Our hearts are still really sad,” Thompson said, a night after he and his players opened up about what it’s been like to represent Auburn’s community this spring. “I think we made a commitment for this entire series.
“I could see it in our guys, whenever their backs got against the wall.”
Auburn beat Coastal Carolina 16-7 in the region opener on Friday before Williams powered over the walk-off, three-run, game-winning home run that beat Georgia Tech 6-5 Saturday and etched his name into Auburn legend as the Tigers moved to the finals.
In the glow of that moment Saturday night, Auburn’s players and coaches thought of the recent death of the school’s lead broadcaster Rod Bramblett and his wife Paula, the death of slain Auburn Police Division officer William Buechner, and the 23 victims of the March 4 tornado that ripped through Lee County.
Saturday’s big win put Auburn in an advantage. Georgia Tech entered Sunday night’s game knowing it had to beat Auburn twice to advance out of the double-elimination regional.
Both teams played five scoreless innings before Holland, the veteran shortstop, blasted a one-out base hit to center, which led to Julien reaching on an error by Georgia Tech in slippery left field.
Woley drove Holland in, then Williams struck again, and Auburn led 3-0.
Auburn added an insurance run in the top of the ninth to give the game its final score.
“That was probably the most complete game we’ve played all year, all around,” Williams said.
“Our offense, we had quality at-bats throughout the whole game, pretty much,” he added. “That late insurance run, that was huge. I think we can build off this going into North Carolina.”
North Carolina is the NCAA Tournament’s No. 14 overall seed. The Tar Heels won their host regional on Sunday.
Auburn will meet North Carolina for a best-of-three series, as the Super Regional round narrows the 16 remaining teams down to the eight moving on to Omaha, Neb.
Deep bullpen choice Bailey Horn, the redshirt freshman leftie, pitched masterfully Sunday, shutting down Georgia Tech for six innings in his start. In the bottom of the sixth, after Auburn’s big rally, he put one on with no outs down, seeming to waiver — then Judd Ward happened.
Ward tracked down a fly out in left, then gunned down the runner from first who wandered to second, for a big double play that sent Auburn fans into another big roar. Auburn got out of the inning and put another frame down before having dig deeper in a depleted bullpen at the end of a long weekend.
Go-to closer Cody Greenhill stepped on the mound in the seventh.
He struck out two then, before Georgia Tech’s powerful RBI leader Tristin English launched a solo homer over left.
Greenhill recovered. He got out of the seventh then struck out two in the eighth before a fly out to Williams in right ended the inning and put Auburn three outs from the Super Regional.
Then he completed the victory in the bottom of the ninth.
In the top of that final frame, Ryan Bliss drove a two-out RBI single to center scoring Kason Howell to put the Tigers back up three runs, to the delight of the Auburn fans that took over half of the stadium in Atlanta.
“The crowds here were amazing for both teams,” Thompson said. “And I do have to tip my hat to my faithful — after all we’ve been through, for them to show up en mass and lock shields with us for this Regional says a lot about the true blue Auburn fans.”
Super Regionals run from Friday to next Monday. The NCAA’s full schedule is yet to be released.
“I’m just in awe of a group of young men,” Thompson said. “I benefit from it, being the head coach, and getting to sit next to them, getting to be with them on this journey.”
The journey continues next weekend in Chapel Hill.