Photography: Johnny Lawrence

Pitching, Defense Spark Auburn's Sweep To Earn A Spot in Softball's College World Series

Auburn is headed to the College World Series and the pitchers played a major role in making that happen.

Auburn, Ala.--Pitching and defense are two-thirds of the winning formula for Auburn softball, according to Tiger head coach Clint Myers. In the two wins on Sunday that pushed Auburn past the Arizona Wildcats in the super regional and secured the Tigers’ spot in the Women’s College World Series, the pitching and defense showed up when it was needed--particularly the pitching.

“We got great pitching,” said Myers after Sunday’s contests, “We got good defense and we got timely hitting. That’s kind of the (winning) chemistry.”

In the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader with Auburn down 1-0 in the series and on the brink of postseason elimination, pitching coach Corey Myers put the ball in the hands of freshman Makayla Martin. She had nerves of steel while pitching a complete game and only giving up one run on five hits and one walk with two strikeouts.

“I’ve been put in stressful situations before and they turned out fine,” Martin said when asked if she was nervous with a spot in the College World Series riding on her right arm.

“I knew exactly what I had to do,” she said. “I’ve been preparing all year. Through the whole season I know the coaches had a lot of expectations of everyone so it wasn’t that much pressure. If they put me in any situation I should be prepared to handle it.”

Photo by Jason Caldwell

Kaylee Carlson pitches for the Tigers on Sunday.

Then second half of the doubleheader, sophomore Kaylee Carlson was given a second opportunity to face the Wildcats after her loss on Saturday night. The North Carolina transfer was superb matching her counterpart Martin in going the full distance with seven innings pitched allowing one runs on nine hits. 

“It meant a lot,” said Carlson after being asked about getting a chance to face Arizona’s hitters again. “It’s just a great feeling to know that I get a second chance to go out there and show that we are better than them and that we deserve to go to Oklahoma City.”

The most intriguing part of her stat line was having no walks or strikeouts. That emphasized her willingness to follow her coach’s instructions of pitching to contact and trusting the defense behind her.

“Maybe a little more strikeouts would have been nice,” joked Carlson when the statistic was pointed out.

“(The pitching) was unbelievable today,” Corey Myers remarked. “I’m extremely proud of the youngster (Martin). It was an attitude I haven’t seen out of her in a long time. If you go back and watch that game she had a smile on her face the whole time.

“I think going into the (World Series) if she can keep that mentality we’re going to go a long way,” he said.

“Kaylee did what she’s been doing since the SEC Tournament,”?the pitching coach said. “She’s a grinder. She battles. It was just real exciting for me as a pitching coach to see these two kids just go out there and pitch like we’ve been practicing without a worry of who’s in the batter’s box or what the situation is. It’s amazing that it happened today because we’re very fortunate that both of them had the outings that they had today.”

The wins took Martin’s win/loss record to 14-3 on the year while Carlson’s improved to 17-2.

A contrasting effort today came from Arizona’s ace pitcher Danielle O’Toole. The lefty who had won eight straight and went into Sunday with a 26-10 record started and lost both games.

After allowing two hits and three runs with only one earned on Saturday, O’Toole struggled making it through a combined six and 1/3 innings giving up eight runs (six earned) on seven hits, zero walks and two strikeouts. She lost control at times, too, hitting four batters.

“I started all three games,” said O’Toole after the losses. “I think when they see you more than the one time it gets a little bit difficult for you. I have to be better.”

O’Toole was hard on herself afterwards, but her teammates were quite complimentary of her postseason efforts this May.

“I mean it’s awesome to have a pitcher that will lay out for you and will want the ball every game,” said Wildcat shortstop Mo Mercado. “I think that’s something we’ve lacked in the past. I think it’s awesome that you can look to the circle and know that somebody really wants the ball whether it’s their 300th pitch or their first pitch.”

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