AUBURN, Alabama — Jade Rhodes set the table and Tiffany Howard cleared it.
Howard’s grand slam in the third capped a long-awaited offensive outburst for Auburn as it swept its NCAA regional with a 14-2, run-rule victory against Jacksonville State in the championship Sunday.
Howard’s second career home run — the second in one week — cleared the bases and provided a 10-1 lead. The homer was set up by Rhodes’ double to left with one out and three straight walks issued by Taylor West in the third scored a run before Howard stepped up and swung for the fence in right field on a 3-1 count.
“The bats really woke up,” Auburn coach Clint Myers said. “They stayed with the plan and it was a much better offensive performance than we’ve had in days prior. We’re moving in the right direction and we’re going to get ready for supers.”
Auburn (52-9) swept its regional with two wins against Jacksonville State and one win against USC Upstate. The Tigers will host Arizona in an NCAA super regional at Jane B. Moore Field in Auburn. Arizona upset national seed Tennessee in its regional in Knoxville, Tennessee with a 4-3 victory in eight innings Sunday. At stake is a second straight trip to the Women’s College World Series for the Tigers, who had never advanced to Oklahoma City until last season.
Jacksonville State played the equivalent of three games Friday to stay alive in the regional, including a 14-inning victory. JSU starter Whitney Gillespie was pulled after the four-run first inning. She threw a total of 345 pitches in the regional.
“Exhaust every ounce of will in you and this team did that,” JSU coach Jana McGinnis said. “If you’re going to lose, lose to the best. Auburn, they’re possibly going to be World Series champs.”
For now, it’s Howard and Auburn’s time to celebrate until they learn of their next opponent. It was a heck of a week for Howard. The slap hitter smacked her first career home run against LSU in the SEC Tournament Championship, ending a drought of 676 career at-bats without a home run Sunday. She has hit two home runs in the last four games.
“He made me hit,” Howard said, motioning to Myers. “Basically the same play I had last time and it just worked out again.”
Auburn scored six runs in the third after a four-run outburst in the top of the first.
Emily Carosone and Kasey Cooper were both 3 for 4 at the plate to lead Auburn. Carosone’s two-run single through the right side stretched the lead to 14-2 in the fourth inning.
Jacksonville State (43-17) managed to score in the second and third innings, but couldn’t get much offense going and finished with six hits. Auburn scored five runs on five hits with two outs after struggling offensively earlier in the regional.
“It’s a good feeling to finally hit,” Cooper said.
SEC Country will update this story.
— ESPNU (@ESPNU) May 22, 2016