CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The focus of Auburn's meeting at the team hotel late Sunday night was how to win the first inning.

Because during the first two games of a super regional against North Carolina, the visiting Tigers lost that battle handily. Tar Heels Aaron Sabato and Ashton McGee drove in three runs in the first inning Saturday. Ike Freeman drove in two on Sunday, which proved to be the final margin in a Tar Heels' win that evened the series at a game apiece.

Auburn didn't score in its first trip to the plate during either of those games, but man, did it ever on Monday. Thirteen runs. The second-highest single-inning total in any NCAA Tournament game ever. The most the Auburn program has scored in a single frame since an April 4, 2000, win over Mercer.

The Tigers rode that first inning to a 14-7 win over North Carolina, a super regional championship and a berth in the College World Series — the program's first since 1997. The other eight innings hardly mattered.

Whatever was said in that meeting the night before must have worked.

"You don't get many innings like that," head coach Butch Thompson said.

The subject of that meeting was not actually what the approach at the plate to be, but rather what its plan should be on the mound. Auburn had actually announced true freshman right-hander Richard Fitts as the team's starter on the mound a little more than an hour earlier, but after talking late Sunday night, the coaches decided to change course to ace Tanner Burns, a former Decatur High star.

It was an unexpected move, mostly because Thompson explicitly stated more than once that Burns would not start during this weekend's super regional. The sophomore right-hander has been dealing with a lingering shoulder problem for weeks, and the thought was that he would only be available for an inning or two out of the bullpen

But the logic made sense: Yes, Burns was going to be limited to only one to two innings, but whose to say those innings had to be in relief? Fitts has pitched to a stellar 2.56 ERA out of the bullpen this season, but a disastrous 12.15 mark as a starter. Auburn's plan was to use Burns as an "opener," a role the Tampa Bay Rays have introduced to Major League Baseball over the past two seasons.

"Tanner has been starting his whole life. So I'm about to play super coach and throw him out of the bullpen? And I'm starting Fitts, and he's just now throwing good out of the bullpen?" Thompson said. "These first innings were like the last piece of … we're starting Tanner even if we only get two innings. Just to try and win the first inning."

Burns has 13-run lead

By the time Burns took the mound in the bottom of the first inning — a little more than 50 minutes after the 12:06 p.m. CDT first pitch — his teammates had given him a 13-run cushion.

"That was pretty cool," Burns said, laughing. "I’m glad I got the ball to get the team’s pitching going for the first two innings."

North Carolina, like Auburn, didn't come into this super regional with three starting pitchers lined up. Its plan was to start its two best in the first two games, Tyler Baum and Austin Bergner, then piece Game 3 together if it needed to. The Tar Heels ended up countering Burns with sophomore right-hander Joey Lancellotti, one of the team's most trusted relievers with three saves this season.

And he couldn't find the strike zone. Facing an Auburn team that had been shut out just a day before, Lancellotti walked the first four batters he faced (throwing just four of his 20 pitches for strikes) before eventually being pulled from the game. That was the first of three pitching changes Tar Heels coach Mike Fox had to make in that inning alone.

Connor Ollio struck out Rankin Woley with the bases loaded, putting North Carolina in a position to get out of the inning with a double play. But Edouard Julien followed with a lined single down the right-field line, and the floodgates opened from there.

Will Holland and Kason Howell hit RBI singles. Hansen Butler relieved Ollio, and Judd Ward belted a three-run home run against him. Steven Williams reached on an error that would have ended the inning, and that allowed Woley, Julien (again) and Matt Scheffler to hit run-scoring singles.

By the time the carnage finally ended, with Holland getting tagged out after ranging too far off second base on Scheffler's base hit, the grand totals were as follows:

One error, four North Carolina pitching changes, five walks, nine hits, 13 runs scored, 17 batters sent to the plate, 50 minutes elapsed, 67 pitches thrown.

The Tar Heels wound up fighting back enough to put seven runs on the board — five on a three-run home run from McGee in the fourth inning and two more on a two-run blast from Sabato in the ninth — but it would be hard to argue that the pitching plan the Tigers put together late Sunday night didn't work.

Burns did all that could be expected, allowing just one baserunner over two hitless, scoreless frames. He struck out three. Fitts ate the middle part of the game, allowing six runs on seven hits and three walks over 5 1/3 innings. Closer Greenhill navigated around three hits (and allowed one run) to record the final five outs and finish off the win.

"What we did is exactly what we lined up to do," Thompson said. "That first inning allowed us to."

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