AUBURN, Ala. — In a perfect world, Auburn softball would have come out and mirrored its win over East Tennessee State by routing California at Jane B. Moore Field.
Instead, Clint Myers’ team found itself in a back-and-forth, extra-innings fight Saturday with the Golden Bears.
Alyssa Rivera’s RBI single in the ninth inning scored pinch runner Brittany Maresette and gave the Tigers a 4-3 victory, their second straight win of the postseason.
“Again we had the intangibles of very good pitching,” Myers said. “We played pretty good defense and we definitely had some timely hitting. We had some people come through at the right times. We’re very excited about where we are.”
The early innings were filled with quality pitching and defense from both teams, but a couple of slipups in the top of the third allowed Cal to jump to a 2-0 lead.
First, Kaylee Carlson allowed a double to Krysten McCue and hit Jazmyn Jackson with a pitch. A wild pitch two batters later allowed Cal to score its first run. Lindsay Rood’s RBI single made it 2-0 before Auburn could retire the side.
Auburn wouldn’t be down long, though, because Casey McCrackin had a response immediately. The second baseman sent a solo shot over the left-field wall to trim the Tigers’ deficit in half.
Victoria Draper followed with a single, then stole second. And while Kasey Cooper and Carlee Wallace couldn’t make anything happen at the plate, Haley Fagan found a way.
The shortstop singled to left field, allowing Draper to tie the score at 2.
Kylie Reed’s RBI single in the top of the fifth inning gave Cal a 3-2 advantage that held until Cooper responded with her own RBI single in the sixth. The teams needed three more innings to decide this tight contest.
“It was a very important game,” Cooper said. “We knew coming in, we saw the rain forecast. We’re not oblivious. We knew that if we won today and rained out tomorrow we’d advance. We didn’t want to get put out by contingency. And so we were playing for our lives right there.”
Cooper was vocal about how certain moments had prepared the Tigers for postseason play after Auburn’s first regional win. Yet the senior had another important moment of her own in the dugout in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Cooper called over Wallace and asked about the catcher’s approach at the plate.
“She said, ‘No regrets, I’m swinging, I have no regrets, I swing with everything I have because right now I have nothing to lose. You should try it.'” Cooper recalled.
At that point, the senior consulted a couple of other teammates and asked what they were seeing. They replied it looked as though Cooper was thinking too much at the plate — she just needed to “swing the bat.”
And so Cooper, who was 0-for-9 in recent at-bats, found a way to let out all of her building frustration: with a hard-hit single down the left-field line. It provided a split second for pinch runner Morgan Podany to slide into home for Auburn’s tying run.
Makayla Martin stepped into the circle for Carlson in the top of the seventh inning, helping to give Auburn a chance at a win.
When Auburn couldn’t win it in the bottom of the seventh, Martin continued to provide a steady presence, keeping Cal scoreless in the eighth and ninth innings.
Turning point 2.0
Fagan came up big again the top of the ninth. The shortstop and Wallace caught Cal’s Khala Taylor stealing home and Martin wrapped things up with a strikeout.
Having been in tight games throughout the season, Auburn kept to the same strategy.
“We play as a team. We play as one, Cooper said. “There was that interference at home plate, that collide. You saw Makayla step up. … We came in and we said let’s win the ball game. We had four barreled balls right after that. That’s the type of passion you have to play with. Everyone picked each other up.”
In the bottom of the ninth, Cooper, Wallace and Fagan reeled off a trio of singles.
Rivera finished the game up by singling down the left field line, giving Auburn its walk-off win.
“It’s very exciting,” Rivera said. “It’s someone different every day and you just have to get it done.”
Player of the game
Haley Fagan: 4 for 5, 1 RBI
Several players made significant contributions as the game unfolded Saturday, but the Tigers wouldn’t have had a chance at a win without Fagan.
Myers made two changes to his lineup before facing the Bears. One of those, moving Fagan to the cleanup spot, paid off big.
Fagan was clutch for in the field and more importantly, with her bat.
While McCrackin’s solo home run was key, it was Fagan’s single that drove in a critical run and set a tone for the Tigers. As Cooper and Wallace struggled at the plate, it was Fagan who gave Auburn a boost.
What’s next for Auburn softball
The pursuit of a third straight Women’s College World Series appearance continues.
With the win, the Tigers are one win from hosting a Super Regional on the Plains. It would be the third time Auburn has hosted a super regional in program history, all of which have come under Myers.