Auburn second baseman Emily Carosone (above) turns a double play in the first inning.
Oklahoma City, Okla.--Auburn struck early and cruised to a 10-3 opening round victory over UCLA on Thursday in the College Softball World Series.
Coach Clint Myers and his Tigers advance into the winners bracket where they will meet a familiar opponent, the Georgia Bulldogs, at 6 p.m. CDT on Saturday instead of the previously scheduled Friday contest due to rainouts of the Thursday night games. Auburn swept a three-game series from the visiting Bulldogs during the regular season.
Georgia defeated FSU 5-4 to advance into the winners bracket. Last year the Tigers had to battle out of the losers bracket after opening the World Series with a loss to LSU.
"I think it is definitely different because we came in with experience this year," said junior All-American Kasey Cooper. "I was talking to Jade (Rhodes) in the middle of the game about how different it is this year. We were here last year and we were playing a little nervous. This year none of our hearts were racing. We have been here before.
"We are excited," Cooper said. "We came in with a plan, we came in with a goal and we executed that plan. We are excited that we are four wins away from winning the national championship."
Kasey Cooper waits for a pitch to hit vs. the Bruins.
Auburn improved its season record to 55-10, one win shy of the school record for victories set last year. UCLA dropped to 40-15-1 in a rematch from last year’s College World Series in a game won by the Tigers 11-10.
Myers was asked if Auburn's two victories in the World Series over UCLA, the most successful team in college softball history, makes a statement about what the Tigers are trying to achieve with their program. The coach said that is the case and added, "What we are trying to do is establish a legacy that Auburn University belongs at the College World Series every year."
Sophomore pitcher Kaylee Carlson went the distance for the Tigers, improving her record to 18-2.
All-Americans Rhodes and Cooper led the Tigers at the plate. Rhodes was 3-3 with two runs scored and Cooper contributed two doubles and drove home two runs.
In an unusual first inning, Auburn scored five runs with a lot of help from the Bruins who hit leadoff batter Tiffany Howard and three other batters in the inning. The Tigers finished the day with nine hits, but just one in the big first inning.
UCLA’s starting pitcher, Selina Ta’amilo, retired just one Tiger before giving way to lefty Paige McDuffee.
Cooper moved Howard to third base with a line drive double to right center field. After a popup out by Emily Carosone and a walk to Carlee Wallace, Rhodes was hit by a pitch to bring home the first run.
The Tigers moved on to 2-0 on a sacrifice fly to right field by Haley Fagan.
Madi Gipson was then hit by a pitch and Whitney Jordan took a pitch off her helmet to get an RBI to make the score 3-0.
Auburn sophomore shortstop Whitney Jordan gets hit by a pitch in the first inning.
UCLA then allowed the Tigers to score two more runs on a ground ball to second base. A throwing error made the score 5-0. The Bruins got out of the inning by getting Howard to ground out to third base.
The Tigers added a pair of runs in the third inning when Whitney Jordan got the threat started with a single to left field. An error on a sacrifice bunt by Victoria Draper put runners on first and third.
With two outs and two aboard, Cooper was walked to load the bases and Carosone made the Bruins pay with a two-out single to right field that scored two runs.
UCLA rallied with three runs in the fourth inning with a leadoff double followed by a single and three-run homer to left field by Mysha Sataraka, her 14th of the season. However, Carlson got out of the inning with no further damage despite walking a batter with two outs.
Auburn respond with a single run off UCLA’s third pitcher, right-hander Johanna Grauer, who was greeted by a hustling leadoff double to left field by Rhodes, who caught the outfielder napping and took off for second base and reached easily on what looked like a single.
Rhodes scored from there as Fagan hit a line drive double to left center field to make the score 8-3.
Auburn added insurance runs with a two-out double by Cooper in the bottom of the sixth inning to score Jordan, who walked, and Howard, who reached on an error.
Sophomore catcher Carlee Wallace and her teammates had plenty to smile about on Thursday.
Carlson, who was not on Auburn's team last year, said she was nervous to start the game, but noted that is normal for her
prior to most games she pitches. "I think going out in the first inning, and having it be such a good inning ending in a double play (Cooper to Carosone to Rhodes) set the game off and kinda of relaxed me."