TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It was a circus-like atmosphere, and not just because an authentic big top was clearly visible across the street beyond the right-field fence Friday as the College of Charleston play Auburn in an NCAA Tournament baseball game.
That tent is home of Florida State’s “Flying High” Circus, which offers, among other things, a rare higher-learning opportunity: Introduction to Circus.
But P.T. Barnum would have loved the show inside Dick Howser Stadium.
The College of Charleston watched a home run disappear and gave up an astonishing triple that landed inches in front of home plate. The magical Cougars played 11 innings and tight-roped their way to a 7-6 victory over Auburn that ended with Erven Roper’s walk-off homer.
Fire juggling, anyone?
All seven of the College of Charleston runs were scored with two outs.
“The thing that’s great about this ballclub is we find ways to win games,” head coach Monte Lee said.
The Cougars, having endured the dismissal of starting pitcher Tyler Thornton and a season-ending injury to staff ace Bailey Ober since their 2014 Super Regional run, are familiar with scrambling for solutions.
They slugged their way to a second straight Colonial Athletic Association regular-season title and improved from a No. 4 NCAA Tournament seed last year to No. 2 in Tallahassee.
Word gets around.
Asked if he was surprised by the College of Charleston’s four home runs Friday, Auburn left fielder Jackson Burgreen said no.
“You kind of look at their numbers and tell what they do,” he said, “and how they score runs.”
That doesn’t mean it was anything resembling a conventional victory.
Burgreen leaped high above the left-field fence to rob Morgan Phillips of what surely should have been a solo home run in the fifth inning.
Typically flawless starter Taylor Clarke (13-1) balked home one of the six runs he allowed over seven innings.
That infield triple?
The ball seemed to hang in the steamy Florida air in the seventh inning for enough time to make a hot dog purchase.
First baseman Nick Pappas closed in but was called off by third baseman Carl Wise, just as a slight breeze pushed the ball back toward the first-base line.
Meanwhile, Burgreen, the batter, hurried around the bases and was almost standing on third when the ball landed. Then Melvin Gray homered to tie the game, 6-6.
“I don’t think I’ve seen that before,” Burgreen said. “But I just kept on running.”
Lee was still shaking his head after the win.
“You have to give their base-runner credit,” he said. “He pops the ball up and he was flying around the base paths. But I’ve never seen that, no.”
More strangeness: The College of Charleston had three home runs before reaching base in any other way, on Ryan Brown’s sixth-inning single.
Florida State fans in the crowd seemed to embrace the mid-major program doing its best to deflate an SEC-ACC showdown. Some whooped it up with their signature Tomahawk Chop chant to support the Cougars.
But it’s all about expectation. Second baseman Blake Butler has seen his team fight through various potholes since the off-season, and has come to expect performance under duress.
“All year we’ve been a two-out hitting team,” Butler said. “Since I’ve been here I’ve heard Coach Lee say, ‘Two-out hits win championships.’ That’s something that when it gets to two outs, we really don’t change our approach. We try to drive runs in.”
And sometimes the game-winner in an NCAA Tournament thriller flies over a fence toward a circus tent.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff