AUBURN, Alabama — Auburn’s struggles against left-handed pitchers continued Saturday as Arizona pushed Auburn to the brink of elimination in its NCAA Super Regional.
Arizona defeated Auburn 5-3 in the first game of the best-of-three series behind Danielle O’Toole’s pitching. The left-hander allowed only two hits, including Jade Rhodes’ home run to start the seventh inning.
Rhodes argued it wasn’t as much O’Toole’s pitching as it was Auburn, which “got away from our plan” at the plate. Either way, Auburn has struggled against left-handers throughout the postseason.
Arizona can wrap up a spot in the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2010 with a victory Sunday at Jane B. Moore Field. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET. Auburn must win two games to advance to the Women’s College World Series.
“We just have to play better,” Auburn coach Clint Myers said. “We’ve been here before as a coaching staff. We talked to the team about what we need to do. It’s another day, another game, another opportunity to go out and play Auburn softball.”
Auburn’s defense was uncharacteristically bad in the loss as the infield failed several times, especially on the left side, and Arizona base runners beat out throws to first and elsewhere on the basepaths. The Wildcats were able to score on two hesitation plays on the left side. There were 22 ground balls in the game.
“Again, they got nine hits and seven were in the infield,” Myers said. “We have to do a better job getting outs on ground balls.”
The Wildcats were much stronger with their short game and looked faster than the Tigers on the basepaths.
Arizona utilized a three-run sixth inning to break a 2-2 tie and grab a 5-2 lead. Auburn reliever Rachael Walters hit Mandie Perez with a pitch with the bases loaded in the sixth inning to give Arizona a 3-2 lead before the defense failed again. Ashleigh Hughes reached on error, scoring a run to make it 4-2 and Mo Mercado reached on a fielder’s choice as shortstop Whitney Jordan mishandled her third ball of the day, allowing a runner to score and give Arizona a 5-2 lead.
Mercado delivered twice, including an infield single to tie the game at 2 in the fifth.
Madi Gipson’s double off the wall in left set up Tiffany Howard, who hit a soft roller to the short stop, allowing two runs to score later in the third inning. Gipson’s hit was Auburn’s first of the game. The Tigers entered the seventh inning 1-of-19 against O’Toole.
“She gave us the effort we needed on the mound and, defensively, a couple of big plays for her,” Arizona coach Mike Candrea said.