Rachael Walters (above, left) and Carlee Wallace (above, right) helped the Tigers advance into the winner's bracket at the Auburn Region.
Auburn, Ala.--It was Rachael Walters to the Rescue Day at Jane B. Moore Field as the senior pitcher was brilliant as Auburn outlasted Jacksonville State 2-1 in the opening round of the NCAA Softball Tournament.
The lefty came on in relief of freshman Makayla Martin and struck out 10 batters and allowed just one hit in 4 2/3 innings.
Auburn took its only lead of the day on a walk-off sacrifice fly with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning when sophomore Carlee Wallace hit a 3-2 pitch to right field scoring Tiffany Howard from third base.
The Tigers loaded the bases in the seventh inning with a leadoff bunt single by Victoria Draper and back-to-back hit by pitches to Howard and Emily Carsone.
Kasey Cooper, who was walked in her three previous appearances, hit a ground ball right at the first baseman, who got the first out on a force at the plate, setting the stage for Wallace to come through with the game-winning RBI.
Victoria Draper makes a catch deep in center field to open the game.
The Tigers move into the winner’s bracket for a 1:30 p.m. CDT game on Saturday vs. USC Upstate, a 5-2 winner over Oregon State in the double elimination, four-team Auburn Regional.
Auburn coach Clint Myers was complimentary of JSU pitcher Whitney Gillespie, who allowed just three hits to the Tigers.
“I thought that Jacksonville State did a remarkable job,” he said. “That young lady in the circle had us handcuffed for seven innings. You take your hat off to them. We have got to be better. There is no doubt that we can. That is why we play. You have to go out and prove yourself each and every day."
Minutes before making that statement Auburn’s head coach had less kind words for his players, challenging them to perform better on Saturday in the winner’s bracket game. However, it would be difficult for anyone to pitch better than Walters.
“I just tried to get my team back in the game,” said Walters, who was asked if that was her best performance of the season. “That was probably the longest I have thrown in a game so I would say, yes, that was one of my top performances of the year.”
Jacksonville State struck for a run in the first inning and there could have been more if not for a great catch by center fielder Victoria Draper against fence vs. the JSU leadoff batter.
JSU's run was unearned. Jordan Bullock reached base on an infield hit to shortstop Whitney Jordan and advanced to the second base on a groundout. Bullock scored from second base when Jordan rushed a throw to first base that sailed over the head of Jade Rhodes.
Whitney Jordan prepares to make a throw from shortstop in Friday's game.
The Tigers tied the game in the third inning on single by Howard, who stole second base and scored on a single to right field by Emily Carosone.
Pitching coach Corey Myers said the Tigers started freshman Martin to get her feet wet in NCAA postseason play, but noted the drop ball pitcher did not have her good stuff on Friday. “She wasn’t feeling very good from pitch one and I knew it was probably going to be a short day,” he said.
“We let her kind of grind it out,” the coach added. “To me Rachael’s best performance was coming in with people in scoring position (runners on second and third, one out) and just stopping their little rally right there.
“I have seen Rachael throw like that one time this year at Samford where she had every pitch going up and down, and she was painting the outside corner,” Myers said. “Big pitchers want the ball all the time. She hasn’t always got the ball when she wanted it, but as of late when she has her opportunity she is making the most of it.”
Carlee Wallace swings and hits a sacrifice fly to win the game.
Wallace said that JSU’s pitcher, who allowed just three hits, was impressive. “She was changing speed and was doing well keeping us off balance,” the catcher pointed out. “She did a really good job of nibbling on the corners. She really wasn’t missing over the heart of the plate so I tip my cap to her. That is difficult to do and not many people can do it.”
Wallace said her pitcher, Walters, is tough to hit against. “It’s not fun, that’s for sure," the catcher said. "It’s bad enough, I know, when I’m trying to catch the ball. She’s good because she’s not predictable and that’s the hardest thing about her. She can throw a strike in on your hands and handcuff you for righties and for lefties, usually you just expect lefties to keep the ball over the plate, but she’ll give you a good jam job if she feels like it. All her curveballs are what’s hard for me to hit, and I catch her on a daily basis. I think that’s her strongest asset."
In the first game the South Carolina Upstate Spartans scored four runs in the top of the seventh inning to break a 1-1 tie before holding on for a 5-2 victory over Oregon State. The Spartans improved to 43-13 while the Beavers fell to 30-19-1 despite out-hitting Upstate 10-9.
Oregon State and Jacksonville meet at 4 p.m. on Saturday with the loser being eliminated from the tournament.
JSU head coach Jana McGinnis said she liked the way her team competed. “I’m sure for softball fans this was a good game. I knew we were prepared. We’ve worked all year. These girls work hard at practice. We’ve worked on every situation we were put in. I couldn’t be more proud of our girls. The only thing I asked of them today was not to back down. We earned the right to play the No. 4 team in the country. They played hard. They don’t have the attitude that it’s over. They fought hard, and they’ll come back and fight hard again tomorrow.”