Oklahoma City--Rachael Walters got the call in relief and slammed the door on Tennessee as Auburn advanced in the softball College World Series on Saturday at Hall of Fame Stadium with a 4-2 victory over Tennessee.
The victory sends the Tigers into a 6 p.m. CDT contest vs. UCLA that both teams must win to remain in the double-elimination portion of the eight-team tournament.
The win was also the first in Auburn history at the softball world series as a crowd of 9,094 watched the matchup of SEC teams.
“Going home in two games was not the plan,” said Walters, a transfer from Radford who faced eight batters and struck out five of them while not giving up a hit in 2 1/3 innings of relief after taking over for Lexi Davis.
“We had a little setback the first game, now we are ready,” said Walters, who picked up her fourth save while Davis improved her record to 25-2 for the Tigers, who improved to 55-10.
Rachael Walters had a big smile after Saturday's victory.
Tennessee ended its season with a 47-17 record and lost four of five games vs. Auburn this season, including the SEC Tournament Championship when Carlee Wallace delivered the game-winning hit in extra innings.
The freshman catcher gave the Vols problems again on Saturday. She was 2-2 at the plate and drove home two runs with a double to right center field in the fourth inning when Auburn scored all of its runs.
“Losing is not an option for this team,” Wallace said. “We are going to fight until we have absolutely nothing left to give on field.”
Commenting on her double, Wallace said, “I know I hit a change-up. I finally hit one to right center and it was a great feeling. I knew I had to put a good team at-bat together. I had to find a way to get the run in. We have left too many runners on base this season, especially at third base, and not scored them so I was looking for a pitch out over the plate to do as much damage as I could.”
Walters gave the Vols problems with her curve ball, a rise pitch and another pitch. “That was my off-speed drop ball, but it correlates as a change-up because I don’t always have a lot of succes with that,” the junior said. “It worked well today. It was good to throw off the hitters, especially Tennessee because they swing away. I was just trying to mix up speed and throw them off.”
Trying to battle out of the losers bracket, the Tigers need to defeat UCLA and win two more games on Sunday to advance to the championship round, a best two-out-of-three series that starts on Monday.
Coach Clint Myers said he was proud of his team’s effort vs. the Vols. “Like Carlee said, there is no option--right now we are going to leave it on the field. We are going to play a good UCLA team and we are going to battle our ass off.”
Auburn stranded two runners on base in the first and second innings while the Vols stranded three in the second when shortstop Haley Fagan caught a line drive by UT leadoff hitter Meghan Gregg and doubled the runner with a throw to first base.
The Tigers struck for four runs in the top of the third inning. Kasey Cooper started the rally with a one-out walk and moved to second base on a ground out. She reached third on an infield single by Morgan Estell, who moved to second base on a passed ball.
Cooper scored on a swinging bunt by Haley Fagan before Wallace doubled in two more runs. Jade Rhodes then doubled to left field to make the score 4-0.
That was enough to win the game, but the Vols added single runs in the fourth and fifth innings off of Davis before Walters got a popup by Rainey Gaffin to end UT’s last threat in the fifth inning.
Auburn was out-hit 9-7 by the Vols, who left nine runners stranded, two more than Auburn, which finished the game with seven hits.
"We are capable of more and we need to," Myers said of his team's hitting.
Lexi Davis got the pitching win for the Tigers.
The Tigers helped their cause by turning a pair of double plays, something they have been consistently doing throughout the season, but nothing was important down the stretch than the pitching of Walters.
"My kind of forte is throwing to lefties so my curveball works to my advantage to them," Walters said. "Coming in today Corey (Myers) told me you need to have your curveball working and your rise ball working on the inside so that's all I focused on in the bullpen. I think I'm comfortable coming in as a closer and kind of helping us out of tough situations now, especially in the end of the season. That's what I like to do. That's what I'm good at. And I think my teammates see that as well."