AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn knew the NCAA Tournament would bring new opponents and challenges to the regional at Jane B. Moore Field. But those obstacles weren’t in the way for long on Friday afternoon.
The Tiger defeated East Tennessee State 11-0 in five innings, moving on to face Cal (1:30 p.m. CT Saturday) and inching closer to hosting its third Super Regional in program history.
Auburn took an early lead after a Kendall Veach triple, which led to a Courtney Shea single. Things got a quiet on the Plains thanks to pitchers from both teams, but it wouldn’t stay that way long.
With a one-run lead in the top of the fourth inning, it was defense that first provided a spark Auburn needed.
That burst of energy came from Haley Fagan, who snagged two quick groundouts. One hit squeaked by Fagan into left field, but the senior made up for it on the next play with another groundout.
Then it was Fagan’s turn at the plate. And while she couldn’t match her defensive momentum with a bat in hand, her teammates did.
Veach followed her triple with a single to center field. Her second hit of the day unleashed a storm of offense from the Tigers.
“I felt like my role in this game was just to get the momentum going because that’s what we needed,” Veach said after the win. “I just wanted to hit a good pitch and sit back on it and just drive it, and that’s what I did.”
At that point ETSU decided to make a pitching change bringing in senior Lindsey Fadnek, but it seemed to be too late to stop Auburn’s roll.
Fadnek walked Shea, and Jenna Abbott pinch hit for Morgan Podany — and the senior made the most of her appearance. Abbott singled to left field, which gave Veach enough time to score.
That’s when the floodgates opened as Auburn kept on rolling through an explosive fourth inning. Casey McCrackin bunted home another run to give Auburn a 3-0 lead. Then it was time for the order to start over with one out on the board.
Victoria Draper is walked, which loads the bases and brings up Kasey Cooper. Cooper, too, is walked, brining in another run.
Auburn was looking at another chance to take an even bigger lead — and seized it.
Carlee Wallace stepped up and drilled a double down the left field line to clear the bases and give Auburn a 7-0 lead. The junior catcher credited Veach for lighting an offensive fire.
“It’s huge. I mean it’s a huge kind of confidence booster just because we always say be the snowflake that starts the avalanche,” Wallace said. “And so I’d definitely say she (Veach) was the snowflake this time that started the avalanche and I just kind of went with the momentum. It’s real easy to go up there and hit and produce when you’ve got people in front of you who start it and start the momentum.”
Following that score, ETSU makes yet another pitching change in the circle, but it wouldn’t provide much relief.
By the end of the fourth inning, Auburn had racked up 10 runs and given themselves a chance at a run-rule win to kick off postseason play. And that’s exactly how the afternoon unfolded.
Player of the game
Right-hander Makayla Martin’s start was slightly shaky start when she stepped in the circle on Friday afternoon. Though Martin’s first few tosses resulted in a groundout, she hit her second batter with a pitch, putting a runner on first base for ETSU.
After that, however, Martin settled down and gained full control, retiring eight straight batters through the third inning (and totaling 5 strikeouts).
“I felt good,” Martin said. “I felt like all my pitches were working. I just went in there knowing that they’re going to swing the bat and I worked to my advantage and just kept the ball low.”
On the day Martin tossed 67 total pitches, 45 of which were ruled strikes (1.85 ERA). Martin avoided walking a single batter and earned her 19th win of the season.
What’s next for Auburn softball
After a Friday win, Auburn returns to Jane B. Moore Field on Saturday afternoon for a matchup with No. 2-seeded Cal (1:30 p.m. CT).
Cal will meet the Tigers after surpassing Notre Dame 6-2 in its initial NCAA game.
A second straight win would mean Auburn will host again, this time a Super regional. It would be the third time in history and under head coach Clint Myers.