But the Alabama win over Auburn was only the highlight of a story with several subplots. Crimson Tide senior Jaclyn Traina went the distance in picking up the victory, which was her 100th Bama career pitching win. Traina helped her own cause, too, with a two-run home run. Traina was used as a hitter for the first time since early April.
Not that anything is guaranteed in a single elimination tournament, but Bama – the regular season champion and top seed in the SEC Tournament – became even more of a favorite for the tourney crown as the other three top seeds were all beaten in games Thursday. Georgia, Bama's next opponent, defeated Florida, while Kentucky beat Tennessee and LSU downed Missouri.
(Thus, Missouri's coach is not likely to be around on Saturday to see another championship dog pile, as he did last week in Columbia, Mo., when Bama clinched the regular season title against his Tigers.)
Alabama improved to 45-10 on the season.
Alabama will continue play at the SEC Tournament on Friday against Georgia (43-12), scheduled for a 4:30 p.m. CDT start. The game will be aired live on ESPNU.
Traina's pitching victory makes her just the third pitcher at Alabama and the ninth in SEC history to earn 100 career wins. She only trails Shelly Laird (115, 1999-02) and Kelsi Dunne (113, 2008-11) in the Alabama career rankings.
Kallie Case had a 2-3 day at the plate, as the sophomore outfielder has earned two-hit performances in three of her last four games and Marisa Runyon hit her fourth home run of the season, a second-inning solo shot. Auburn (38-17-1) took the early lead in the game but was held scoreless after the second inning. Marcy Harper (17-5) took the loss as the Tigers' starter, throwing the opening three innings with seven runs allowed, though only four were earned.
Auburn took the first lead of the game, as Jade Rhodes knocked a single into left field to score Morgan Estell from third, advancing to second on the throw to put a pair in scoring position with two away in the first. A groundout to second limited the damage, as the Tide escaped the half-inning facing a 1-0 deficit.
With two out in the bottom of the first, the Auburn shortstop booted a grounder by Molly Fichtner, which allowed Kaila Hunt to score from second and tie the game at 1-1. Jadyn Spencer was caught in a rundown in between second and third on the play however, as she was tagged out sliding in to third for the final out of the inning.
With two outs and runner at second in the top of the second, Emily Carosone gave Auburn back the lead with a two-run homer to straightaway center and Kasey Cooper padded the lead with a solo home run in the next at-bat. A lineout to third ended the half-inning but Alabama was now trailing, 4-1.
Runyon drew Alabama within two to lead off the bottom-half of the second, launching a huge home run over the right-field fence to make it a 4-2 ballgame. Later in the inning with two out and runners at the corners, Case poked a single through the left side to score another, drawing the Tide within one, down 4-3. A passed ball allowed both runners to move into scoring position and a grounder rolled right between the legs of the Tiger third baseman, allowing two unearned runs to score as Alabama moved up 5-4.
Traina padded the Tide's lead in the bottom of the third, launching a line-drive home run to center field to score two and give Alabama a 7-4 lead. In the bottom of the fourth with one away, a hard bases-loaded grounder to third went for one out but allowed a run to cross the plate, putting Alabama up 8-4.
Alabama failed to tack on any insurance in the closing innings, heading to the seventh inning still leading 8-4. A quick fly out and popup brought the Tigers down to their final out. Branndi Melero made a bid at a late rally with a two-out single and Morgan Estell followed with a walk. The Tigers could not bring the potential tying run to the plate however, as Traina struck out Rhodes to end the game and advance Alabama to the SEC Tournament semifinals.