There is going to Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series. And there is just going.
Auburn catcher Nate LaRue put a new perspective on reaching the ultimate destination in college baseball after his team held on for a thrilling 4-3 win at No. 3 national seed Oregon State on Monday night to reach the CWS.
“How much of a relief is it to be finished, to have accomplished this and to know that you’re on to the next step,” he was asked moments after the game by an Auburn Radio Network announcer.
“Uh, I’ve got a little metaphor,” LaRue, a junior from Mobile, Alabama, said. “I don’t know if it’s good for radio or not. But it’s kind of like when you have to take a really big poop, and you finally get to go. Just relief. Pure relief.”
Well, all righty, then.
And Auburn’s announcer could not stop laughing as he tried to ask another question.
Needless to say, LaRue was tense behind the plate as Oregon State sent its top of the order to bat in the bottom of the ninth, trailing 4-3. But Auburn closer extraordinaire Blake Burkhalter struck out Justin Boyd, whose two-run home run in the seventh cut Auburn’s lead to 4-3. Then he got Wade Meckler to line out to left field, where Bryson Ware made an excellent catch.
And Burkhalter struck out Garret Forrester to end the game in front of 4,174 at Goss Stadium on the Oregon State campus in Corvallis.
Auburn (42-20) is off to Omaha for the second time since 2019 and sixth trip overall. The Tigers will play Ole Miss (37-22) in an SEC reunion on Saturday at 7 p.m. eastern time on ESPN2. Oregon State finished 48-18.
Auburn play-by-play announcer Andy Burcham put it all in more of a baseball context as the last out was recorded.
“Full count to Garret Forrester. 4-3 Auburn. 2 outs, bottom of the ninth, Super Regional championship game. Burkhalter comes set,” Burcham said to set it up. “Here’s the 3-2 pitch. He struck him out! The Tigers are going to Omaha! Burkhalter strikes out Forrester! Tigers dog pile in Corvallis. From Auburn to Corvallis to Omaha! The Tigers are going to Omaha!”
Auburn filled the last spot of the eight-team World Series field, including four SEC teams to tie the league record set in 1997 and equaled in 2019.
The CWS opens at 2 p.m. eastern time Friday with No. 5 national seed Texas A&M of the SEC (42-18) playing Oklahoma (42-22) on ESPN.
Texas (47-20) and Notre Dame (40-15), which knocked off No. 1 national seed Tennessee in the Super Regional round Sunday, play at 7 p.m. Friday on ESPN.
Saturday action starts at 2 p.m. on ESPN when No. 2 national seed Stanford (47-16) plays Arkansas of the SEC (43-19). Stanford eliminated Connecticut on Monday, 10-5.
Auburn took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third inning on a two-run home run by Sonny DiChiara, who hit his sixth in eight games. But Oregon State cut it to 2-1 in the home third on an RBI groundout by Wade Meckler after Boyd tripled with one out.
The Tigers went up 4-1 in the sixth when DiChiara walked and Bobby Peirce doubled before an RBI grounder by Brooks Carlson and a bunt RBI by Brody Moore. Carson Skipper (6-3) pitched in the fifth and sixth for the win with four strikeouts. And Burkhalter retired all eight batters he faced with five strikeouts for his 15th save.
“Oh, my goodness, words can’t describe it,” Burkhalter said.
Well, LaRue found some.
“I mean, this is the most excited I’ve ever been in my life,” Burkhalter continued. “I’m just shaking out there on the mound. Biggest stage we’ve had so far yet. I was excited to be in this moment right here. Hard to describe. Hard to describe.”
“It’s a dream shot to go to Omaha. Just amazing,” Skipper said.
“It’s an amazing group,” Auburn coach Butch Thompson said. “It’s a joy.”
It’s a relief.
“We’re not done yet,” Thompson said. “We’re going ot take this out to Omaha, and we talked about Omaha or bust. And we want a national championship for Auburn in baseball. Might not happen. But we’re going to try. We’re going to give them hell. We’re going to let the wheels fall off.”
And perhaps not make LaRue available for interviews.
“There’s only eight teams in college baseball that are still playing ball, and we’re one of them,” Skipper said. “So, let’s go.”