Auburn, Ala.--Hitting just .143 in its first two NCAA Softball Regional games, Auburn’s bats came alive as the Tigers cruised to a 14-2 run-rule victory over Jacksonville State on Sunday to advance to the super regional round.
The Tigers will take on Arizona of the Pac 12, which defeated Tennessee on Sunday in Knoxville to earn the berth in the Auburn Super Regional. The first game is set for 5:30 p.m. CDT on Saturday in Auburn with game two on Sunday at 1 p.m. If a third game is necessary it will be played on Sunday at 4 p.m.
Auburn pounded out a dozen hits before the game was stopped after five innings due to the run rule. Seniors led the charge. Emily Carosone pounded out three hits and drove home two runs while Tiffany Howard hit her second college home run, a grand slam, to give the Tigers total command.
Howard said she went to the plate not thinking about hitting a home run. “I am just trying to square the barrel up and get the barrel out front,” she said after hitting the long ball to go with another one from the SEC Championship Game eight days earlier.
Auburn's leadoff hitter, Tiffany Howard, had a memorable day vs. the Gamecocks that included a chance for a home run trot.
Junior Kasey Cooper also finished with three hits for the Tigers, who improved to 52-9. Jacksonville State, the champion of the Ohio Valley Conference, finished its season with a 43-17 record.
“It was a good feeling to finally hit,” said Cooper, the SEC Player of the Year, who was walked five times in Auburn’s three regional games. “I have to give it to all the hitters behind me and Tif. They should be watching out for Tiffany right now because like Emily said, we are warning track power.
“It is just a good feeling going into the super regionals,” Cooper added. “We got 12 hits today. That is a good number. That is what Auburn softball is all about.”
Coach Clint Myers, who wasn’t pleased with Auburn’s win over Jacksonville State on Friday and was only slightly more impressed with the team’s victory over USC Upstate on Saturday, said the Tigers played better softball on Sunday.
“I thought we played extremely well,”?he declared. “I thought we got some very good pitching in the circle and we played some good defense. The bats really woke up. They really stayed with the plan and it was a much better offensive performance than we had in days prior. We are moving in the right direction and we are going to get ready for supers.
“We are really excited the super regionals are here because the fans today, it was packed, it was loud, they were boisterous, you could just feel the energy that was coming down and the girls love playing in front of them,” the coach said. “Thank you fans because it does make a difference.”
Auburn jumped on Jacksonville State early with four runs on four hits in the top of the first inning, totals that surpassed Auburn’s numbers from their matchup on Friday vs. the Gamecocks.
One-out back-to-back singles by Carosone and Cooper started the threat, but Carosone was forced out at third base on a groundout by Carlee Wallace for out two. Courtney Shea, who moved up in the batting order, came through with an RBI single to right field.
A ground ball to shortstop by Jade Rhodes brought in the second run as the Gamecocks were charged with an error.
After Rhodes stole second base Madi Gipson hit a line drive to center field scoring two more runs. After Whitney Jordan walked Victoria Draper grounded out to prevent any more damage to JSU.
The Tigers made the score 5-0 in the second inning. Cooper reached base on a two-out, line drive single to center field. She moved to third on a single by Wallace, who advanced to second base on the throw to third base.
Cooper then scored on a wild pitch and Wallace was tagged out on the same play as she tried to get all the way home from second base.
The Gamecocks responded with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the second inning by Stephanie Lewis, but couldn’t add to that total in the inning.
Auburn responded with six runs in the top of third inning with four coming on a grand slam by left fielder Howard, who crushed the ball into the wind over the right center field fence. Her high line drive cleared the fence with ease.
Rhodes started the big inning with a double. Three straight walks brought in a run prior to Howard’s homer, the second as a collegian for the senior.
Back to back doubles by Cooper and Carosone followed to make the score 11-1.
Rachael Walters was effective in two outings vs. Jacksonville State.
The Tigers then turned to freshman pitcher Makayla Martin to pitch in the third inning in relief of senior Rachael Walters, who allowed three hits and one run.
Martin pitched an inning and gave up a run before seniors Marcy Harper and Lexi Davis each pitched a scoreless inning for the Tigers, who got three more runs in the fourth inning. Harper was credited with the pitching victory to improve her record to 7-2for the season.
A bunt single by Draper that included an error allowed Rhodes to score making it 12-0. Carosone drove home two more runs with a single to right field scoring Draper and Jordan.
“It’s a good feeling to play Auburn softball and put a lot of runs up,” Cooper said.
Next up for the Tigers is an unseeded Arizona team that is 39-19 after defeating Tennessee 4-3 on Sunday.
Jacksonville State's coach, Jana McGinnis, noted she like her team's effort after having to play in the night to come out of the losers bracket with two wins.
“Wow. I’m still holding my head high," she said. I’m still proud of this team, this group of seniors. We always say at Jacksonville State, 'Exhaust every ounce of will in you,' and this team did that. If we’re going to lose, lose to the best. Auburn is possibly going to be World Series champs, and they are one of the best.”