Oklahoma City--In a game that had more twists and turns than a mountain road, Auburn out-lasted UCLA 11-10 to advance for the second time on Saturday in the losers bracket of the College Softball World Series.
Pac 12 Player of the Year Ally Carda walked Auburn senior Morgan Estell with the bases loaded and no outs to bring home Emily Carosone and give the Tigers the victory in the bottom of the 10th inning.
The Tigers will face the Florida Gators at noon CDT on Sunday. If Auburn wins the teams will play again at 6 p.m. with the winner advancing to the finals of the eight-team world series.
The Gators were the SEC regular season champs while Auburn won the SEC Tournament. The teams have not played this season.
On a night with a lot of big plays for both teams, nobody did more than Auburn senior right-fielder Branndi Melero who reached base six times with three hits and three walks. She drove home four runs and her three-run homer in the third helped the Tigers overcome a 5-0 deficit. It was the senior's 11th homer of the season.
“That was special, very special,” said Melero, a California native who was originally committed to play for UCLA until a coaching change at the Pac 12 school prompted her to switch to Auburn.
“The whole time I was wanting to prove something,” she told Inside the Auburn Tigers. “I am glad that my team pulled through.”
Branndi Melero had plenty to smile about late Saturday night.M
The Tigers won the game despite not playing their best softball. The Tigers were charged with three errors and missed a couple of other balls that were ruled hits they normally catch. Additionally, the base-running, which is usually exceptional, left something to be desired, too.
Myers noted that Auburn’s defense has been a strength through the year. “We were a little shaky out there,” he said. “One of the things we really pride ourselves on is base-running, but when it came down to it this team figured out a way to win.
“Like Corey (pitching coach Corey Myers) says all of the time, you just have to be one run better and tonight we were,” the head coach added. “It wasn’t pretty, but it was still a win.”
Lexi Davis, who started the game and was replaced in the third inning, returned to pitch and picked up the victory to improve her record to 26-2.
Davis gave up five hits, reliever Rachael Walters gave up two in 1/3 of an inning and Marcy Harper allowed 10 hits in 4 1/3 innings.
Harper was pitching when UCLA's Maddy Jeleneicki hit a dramatic two-out, two-run homer in the top of the seventh to put the Bruins ahead 10-9. However, Auburn rallied with a single run in the bottom of the seventh to force extra innings.
Freshman catcher Carlee Wallace had a big night, too, with two hits, a walk and four RBI as the Tigers improved their record to 56-10 while UCLA was eliminated from the World Series with a 51-12 record.
Wallace's double to left center field drove home Haley Fagan, who had led off the bottom of the seventh inning with a single off of Ally Cardy, who threw 205 pitches vs. the Tigers.
"I was just trying to do my best for my team," said Wallace. "I made a statement earlier and I said we were going to fight. In saying that I've got to be the first one to do it. I was up there and I just knew I was going to get a hit. Losing is not an option for this team."
"We just have to keep going," Wallace added. "Our love for the game right now and our love for each other, we're just playing for each other right now. We've got nothing to lose. We're just going to go out there and give it our best."
Auburn finished a half-game behind Florida in the SEC regular season. The Tigers won the SEC Tournament Championship and did not play the Gators in that event that featured a walk-off RBI single by Wallace to defeat Tennessee, the team Auburn defeated in game one on Saturday by a 4-2 score.
While beating the Vols was special as AU's first College World Series win, the game vs. UCLA had more drama, setting the stage for a matchup with the defending national champion Florida team. Auburn must defeat the Gators twice on Sunday to have a chance to play for the national championship starting on Monday.
"They're a great team, but we're just going to focus on playing the game and just do what we can do, control what we can control, and then let the outcome dictate if we play a second game," said Estell, Auburn's team captain.
The game vs. UCLA featured 21 runs, the second highest in World Series history. The record is 24 in the UCLA-Arizona game in 2010.