The Tigers (above) celebrate their championship at Nusz Field on the Mississippi State campus.
Starkville, Miss.--The pitching, which had been a consistent strength for the Tigers until a late season slump, returned to form in the postseason to power Auburn to another SEC Softball Tournament championship.
On Saturday freshman right-hander Makayla Martin and senior lefty Rachael Walters combined to allow LSU just five hits as Auburn cruised to a 7-1 victory in the title game. Unlike last year, when the Tigers won in extra innings on a walkoff double by Carlee Wallace, there was no need for late heroics.
“It was a phenomenal two days for the girls, I couldn’t be prouder,” said Coach Clint Myers, who noted that the team’s goal remains to get back to the College World Series and play for three additional days, something that would put the Tigers in the national championship game.
The strong showing in the SEC Tournament certainly locked down a top eight national seed for the NCAA Tournament, which means the Tigers would have homefield advantage for the regional and the super regional should they win their four-team regional.
The entire NCAA Tournament field will be announced on Sunday night. Auburn, which came into the SEC Tournament ranked eighth nationally, knocked off No. 4 Alabama (6-4) in the quarter-finals, No. 1 Florida (2-1) in the semi-finals and No. 13 LSU in the title game.
The Tigers improved their record to 49-9 while LSU dropped to 45-13 as the teams met for the first time this season.
Myers said that Auburn's pitching in the three games at Starkville was what he was hoping to see. In those games the Tigers combined to allow just 18 hits in 21 innings pitched while combining for a 1.33 earned run average. The control was good, too, with the Tigers allowing just five bases on balls while limiting Alabama, Florida and LSU to a combined .227 batting average while the Tigers batted .305 in the tournament.
"The pitching was phenomenal," Myers said. "Beating teams on Friday that were ranked No. 1 and No. 4 in country is pretty good, and so is coming back the next day to beat a team (LSU) that that had won 15 of its last 16 games."
Auburn scored four runs in the second inning before adding insurance with a single run in the fifth and two more in the sixth inning on a two-run homer by senior Tiffany Howard, her first as a collegian.
Martin pitched five innings as the starter and allowed five hits and one run to improve her record to 12-3 for the season. Walters pitched the final two innings and allowed just one baserunner on a walk.
Martin was staked to a comfortable lead with the Tigers scoring four runs with two outs in the second inning. Madi Gipson started the attack with a one-out single and Whitney Jordan followed with a two-out single, moving Gipson to third base.
Jordan stole second base and Victoria Draper walked to load the bases. Howard then reached base on a throwing error by the second baseman to make the score 1-0.
Emily Carosone drove home two runs with a single and another run scored on a throwing error on the same play. The senior was named the SEC Tournament MVP for a second consecutive year.
“Their second baseman had a great effort and was very close to getting that ball," Carosone said. "Softball is a game of inches. A few more inches and she has it and we don’t score. Our runners that got on base--Tiffany Howard made great read on the passed ball and scoring. It could have been three, but we got four runs. The base running was awesome. I was just there to hit a ball in the gap."
Emily Carosone, a senior second baseman, heads to first base in the championship game.
LSU then replaced starting pitcher Sydney Smith with Carley Hoover, who got Kasey Cooper to fly out to right field to end the inning.
LSU got its only run in the third inning on a single by Amber Serrett, who moved to second on a wild pitch, to third base on a groundout and then scored on another wild pitch by Martin.
Auburn stretched the lead to 5-1 in the fifth inning as Kasey Cooper and Carlee Wallace singled ahead of Jade Rhodes, whose single to right field scored a run.
In the sixth inning Whitney Jordan doubled to the center field wall and scored when Howard hit a shot over the right center field fence to make the score 7-1.
“That thing was way out,” Myers said of his leadoff hitter’s home run. “It couldn’t happen to a greater kid...That was a beautiful swing and she made great contact. We are really happy for her.”
LSU's Sahvanna Jaquish said she was impressed with what she saw from the Auburn Tigers. "Auburn's energy is just crazy," the junior said. "It is a lot of fun playing against a team like that."
LSU coach Beth Torina said a couple of errors hurt her team. "We cannot give an offense like that that many opportunities," she said.
In addition to Carosone, Auburn pitcher Kaylee Carlson, left fielder Tiffany Howard and catcher Carlee Wallace were on the All-Tournament Team along with Nicole DeWitt, and Kelsey Stewart of Florida, Meghan Gregg and Matty Moss of Tennesse plus, Bianka Bell, Carley Hoover and Sandra Simmons of LSU.