Kaylee Carlson (above, left) picked up the win for the Tigers while Carlee Wallace (00) drove home the winning runs. Courtney Shea (right) caught the game for Carlson.
Starkville, Miss.--Sophomore pitcher Kaylee Carlson went the distance as Auburn defeated Florida 2-1 on Friday to earn a spot in the SEC Softball Tournament championship game.
The Tigers will try to win back-to-back league tournament titles as they take on LSU at 4 p.m. CDT on Saturday at Nusz Field.
"The kids played very well," Coach Clint Myers said. "Beating the No. 1 and No. 4 ranked teams in the country on the same day is a testament to how well the girls played."
Carlson improved her record to 15-1 as she allowed just five hits to the regular season SEC champions, who dropped to 53-5 for the season with two of those losses coming to the Tigers.
Auburn improved its record to 48-9 and combined with a victory over Alabama earlier in the day likely locked up a top eight national seed for the NCAA Tournament.
As was the case against Alabama, who the Tigers beat 6-4 in the first game on Friday, the Tigers struck early. Against the Gators the Tigers got to pitcher Kelly Barnhill as she took the loss to fall to 15-1 for the season.
Tiffany Howard started the game with a line drive single to center field, but Emily Carosone’s hard-hit ball bounced to the first baseman, who turned a double play.
Kasey Cooper then followed with a line drive double and Carlee Wallace smacked a two-run homer over the left field fence.
Wallace said she was expecting a fastball from the hard-throwing Barnhill. "I knew she was going to challenge me," Wallace said. "I just tried to put a short swing on the ball and I knew she would provide (the power) for me."
Carlson’s pitching was so strong that was all the runs the Tigers needed to win. The Gators didn’t get a hit off the right-hander until the fourth inning and seldom hit the ball hard as she kept them off balance with good control and an effective change-up.
"This is exactly why I came here," Carlson said. "I wanted to play in these big moments and I wanted to compete against the top teams in the nation. I have been trying to trust myself when I go out there. That has been my goal the last two weekends, and it has been working."
Kaylee Carlson pitches against the Gators at Nusz Field in Starkville.
After giving up five hits in two innings, Florida’s Barnhill was replaced by Delanie Gourley, who pitched five strong innings of relief, allowing just one hit while walking two.
The Gators finally managed to score a run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. A leadoff single by Nicole DeWitt put a runner on base. She moved to second on a groundout and stayed there on a strikeout.
Pinch-hitter Aleshia Ocasio hit a ground ball in the hole between first base and second. Carosone made a head-first dive and caught the ball, but her throw to first was wide allowing the run home. However, Carlson didn’t let that rattle her and finished the game with a strikeout.
"It was her best game," Myers said of the pitching performance from Carlson. "She pitched to contact as well as you could expect. We played great defense. When you have that kind of performance defensively, and in the circle, it really helps. Kaylee must have had six, seven or eight assists. It was a masterful performance.
"Kaylee threw the ball where she wanted it and she didn't have many misses," the coach pointed out. "It was just a super, super job by her."
Haley Fagan holds a toy turtle the team keeps in the dugout to remember their injured teammated, Kelsey "Turtle" Bogaards.
Wallace, who drove home the game-winning run in last year's SEC Tournament Championship Game victory over Tennessee, said that victory helped give the Tigers the momentum to reach the College World Series and she hopes this year's league championship game does the same thing.
Auburn and LSU did not play in the regular season. The Bayou Bengals are 45-14 overall after getting past Tennessee 3-1 in extra innings on Friday in the other semi-finals matchup. The championship game will be televised on ESPN.
Myers said the pitching was a key in the victory vs. Alabama. "Rachael (Walters) did a great job and then Makayla (Martin) came in and shut the door. I am really pleased with the performances we got today in the circle and in the field."
The coach said he believes the Tigers solidified their spot as a national seed for the NCAA Tournament. "Nobody brought up the Tennessee or Texas A&M games," he said after the Tigers defeated Florida. "It was a situation where we said those games were just a bump. We have been very consistent all year long except for two or three days. These players believe in themselves and they believe in each other"