Auburn, Ala.- In a season that has largely been about getting run support for their excellent pitching staff, the Auburn Softball team got the bats going in a big way this weekend at the Auburn Regional in the NCAA Tournament. Amassing a combined 23 runs and 40 hits over three games, compared to the 5 runs and 13 hits for opponents East Tennessee State and California, senior third baseman Kasey Cooper said it best, commenting “That’s a statement” after the regional title was secured. The Tigers advanced to their third consecutive Super Regional (to be hosted this weekend at Jane B. Moore Field) after welcoming ETSU to their first ever tournament appearance with an 11-0 hospital job Friday afternoon, followed by a nerve wracking game on Saturday against the Golden Bears.
With the threat of inclement weather quickly approaching, NCAA rules dictated that if the entire weekend were to be washed out, the team who had advanced the farthest would move on to Super Regionals, making that game crucial. While the weather never ended up being the massive disruption it was predicted to be, the pressure produced the best game of the weekend, a 4-3 Auburn victory in nine heart pounding innings. After Cal scored two in the top half of the third inning to subdue the rowdy home crowd, the Tigers immediately responded with a leadoff home run from sophomore second baseman Casey McCrackin, followed by redshirt senior shortstop Haley Fagan, driving in Victoria Draper with an RBI down the left field line. Cal retook the lead in the top of the fifth with an RBI single from Kylie Reed, before Cooper tied the game up with two outs in the bottom of the sixth with an RBI double that scored Morgan Podany. After both teams failed to take advantage in the seventh, the game went to extras, where sophomore Makayla Martin, in relief for junior Kaylee Carlson, and the Auburn defense worked out of a jam that at one point included two Cal runners sixty feet from scoring. From there, the Tiger offense went to work, with junior catcher Carlee Wallace and Fagan both singling to put a runner in scoring position. Head Coach Clint Myers made the decision to pinch run freshman Brittany Maresette for Wallace, and it paid off, when freshman right fielder Alyssa Rivera laced an RBI single down the left field line to score Maresette, and keeping the Tigers in the winner’s bracket.
Then on Sunday, the Tigers went for round two with the Golden Bears, who had to finish a suspended game with Notre Dame from the night before at ten in the morning. This, likely combined with the time change coming from the west coast, produced a clearly fatigued Cal team. Auburn wasted no time taking advantage of this, coming out strong with a two RBI double from Wallace, followed by a two-run bomb over the right field fence by Fagan was enough to chase Cal starting pitcher Stephanie Trzcinski before the first out of the game was even recorded in a four run, five hit inning. From there, Auburn kept the pressure on offensively, scoring three more in the top of the second, two of which were driven in from the bat of Rivera, the hero of the previous night’s game, on a double to left. Junior Courtney Shea also contributed to the effort, singling to left to drive in Fagan from third, and the Tigers took a commanding 7-0 lead after just two innings. After Cal scored on a wild pitch from Carlson in the third, and tacked another on the board in the sixth, Kasey Cooper put an exclamation point of the weekend with a solo shot off of the scoreboard in left center field to give the Tigers a decisive 8-2 victory over their Pac-12 visitors en route to their third straight Super Regional this coming weekend.
What now looms large over this particular Super Regional is the much-discussed, much-anticipated rematch of last season’s Women’s College World Series championship series against Oklahoma, where the Tigers lost a decisive game three to the Sooners 2-1. Auburn did get a bit of revenge to start out this season, defeating OU 3-2 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. But given the stakes, this rematch, another best of three, with a return trip to Oklahoma City on the line, revenge will be at the forefront leading into Friday night’s contest, after a narrow escape against Tulsa in the Norman Regional on Monday for the Sooners. Game One of the Auburn Super Regional is set to begin Friday.