Auburn, Ala.--After falling behind 4-2 in the fourth inning the Auburn Tigers immediately scored four runs as they defeated South Alabama 7-4 on Sunday to advance to the NCAA Softball Tournament Super Regional round for the first time in school history.
“The key to winning the game was winning it for Carlee (Wallace),” All-SEC third baseman Kasey Cooper said. “After the incident at home plate we were playing for her. We just needed to contain and control them that inning and we told Rachael (pitcher Rachael Walters) if you get us out of this inning and you contain them we will win for you.
“We were completely, totally, one-for-one on the team as sisters battling for each other,” said Cooper.
Wallace, who was run over at the plate trying to apply a tag during South Alabama’s big inning, was taken to East Alabama Medical Center for treatment. The Tigers got good news that she will be okay and the freshman returned to the game in the seventh inning to see her team celebrate winning the regional title.
Wallace is hugged after the game by captain Morgan Estell.
Auburn protested the ruling on the play that allowed the Jaguars to score their first run in the fourth inning on the collision with Wallace when there was a question on whether or not the runner, Amanda Minahan, had touched home she tripped before colliding with the Auburn catcher. There was also a question if the runner illegally made contact with the catcher, but the umpire crew ruled the runner tripped and hitting Wallace was unintentional.
After a delay of 37 minutes an on-site, three-person NCAA committee ruled that because Wallace was injured on the play and the umpire immediately called the play dead that the runner, Minahan, did not have a chance to touch home.
The NCAA released this ruling: "In the NCAA rule book rule, rule 15.9.3 which states in the umpire’s discretion once the play is stopped due to an injury they place the lead runner in jeopardy by not being able to go back and touch home plate. That being said, the umpires cannot call the lead runner out so she is awarded the base. The next decision is where the remaining runners are when time is called. The runners were at second and third and that’s where they were place.”
After the delay Auburn pitcher Lexi Davis gave up a walk and two singles allowing the Jaguars to take a 3-2 lead, prompting a pitching change.
After Walters struck out a batter she walked home a run before retiring the side as the Jaguars finished with four runs in the inning.
Coach Clint Myers said that Wallace may have to miss a day of practice, but noted the freshman will be ready for action in the super regional round. “She will probably be a little sore, but the doctors gave her the thumbs up,” he said.
Walters picked up the victory in relief for the Tigers, who improved their record to 52-9 while South Alabama fell to 40-13. Walters did not allow a hit in 3 2/3 innings in relief of Davis.
“Right now they are all doing it,” Myers said of his pitching staff. “Like Coop (Kasey Cooper) said, the pitchers are out there busting their butts making the best pitches they can,” the coach added.
The Tigers will now await word on who will emerge from the Louisiana-Lafayette regional to travel to Auburn to play in the super regional round.
“They accomplished something no Auburn team has ever done,” Myers said of his team winning an NCAA regional. “They beat a very good team. South Alabama was a conference champ. We knew going in they were very good and they have got great pitching.”
After Auburn won 4-1 vs. Tennessee Tech with four hits and 1-0 vs. South Alabama with two hits in its first two regional games, the Tigers finished with 11 hits on Sunday. Combine that with eight walks from the Jaguar pitchers and two errors and the Tigers had lots of baserunners throughout the game that featured 15 Tiger runners left on base.
However, Auburn came up with the key plays to take control of the game in the fifth inning after losing a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning.
Haley Fagan, who scored two runs, started the rally by reaching base on a slow ground ball that the pitcher threw off line to first base for what was ruled an error.
First baseman Jade Rhodes contributed to the victory.
The Tigers have been good at scoring runs with two outs all season and did it again when first baseman Jade Rhodes broke out of her slump with a triple off the left center field fence to cut the score to 4-3.
Pinch-hitter Jenna Abbott was hit by a pitch and Tiffany Howard singled to center field to tie the game.
Emily Carosone followed with a double to right center field to score two more runs putting the Tigers up 6-4.
After that Walters controlled the game with her pitching and Auburn added an insurance run in the sixth inning when pitcher Devin Brown walked Rhodes with the bases loaded.
Auburn scored a single run in the second inning when Fagan doubled and moved to third on two walks and scored when Howard was hit by a pitch.
The Tigers scored once in the fourth inning when Whitney Jordan reached base on an error and scored on a single to center field by Cooper.
The Auburn Super Regional will start at 1 p.m. CDT on Friday at Jane B. Moore as the Tigers play Louisiana-LaFayette, which defeated Baylor 9-1 on Sunday night in the LaFayette Regional championship game. The super regional format is head-to-head, best two-out-of-three games with the winner advancing to the College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Last year the Tigers were short on pitching depth in the regional, but this year that wasn't an issue, Myers pointed out. Auburn's coach said if the Tigers needed to play a second game on Sunday that Marcy Harper was ready for action. South Alabama, in contrast, was missing a key pitcher due to injury and would have had to go with Brown and Kalen McGill, who were both hit hard by the Tigers on Sunday.
"Unfortunately, Farish Beard wasn’t available," South Alabama coach Becky Clark said. "McGill and Brown gave us everything they had. Unfortunately, we came up short, and congratulations to Auburn for moving forward. They are a very good team and have done a very good job.”
Golfers Qualify For Nationals ITAT Radio, Friday Podcast
Auburn Softball Regional Opponent Preview