Auburn has faced numerous tests this season. None of them have been with as much on the line as this afternoon on the Plains in the Tigers' first game of the NCAA Regional.
Jacksonville State picked up a run in the first inning for the early lead, and their ace pitcher Whitney Gillespie spent most of the afternoon shutting down the Tigers' prolific bats. Gillespie threw pitches in all the right places and avoided Kasey Cooper, walking her in Cooper's first three at-bats, to stymie the Tigers for most of the day.
Auburn finally got on the board in the 3rd inning to tie the game on an Emily Carosone RBI single that scored Tiffany Howard. Howard was on base with a single of her own and then stole 2nd to make it 26 of 26 on stolen base attempts for her career.
The following innings were a true pitchers dual as Gillespie continued her magnificent effort while Rachael Walters - on in relief of Makayla Martin - was having a career day of her own. Walters shut down the Gamecocks' batters, who were getting base runners on Martin, throwing a career high 10 strikeouts.
The game went to the bottom of the 7th with Auburn needing some magic to win and start out on the top side of the bracket. Victoria Draper got things started on a bunt single, following by Tiffany Howard and Emily Carosone both being hit by a pitch to load the bases for Kasey Cooper. Cooper reached on a fielder's choice, with Draper thrown out at home.
That brought Carlee Wallace - hero at the plate of so many clutch games - to the plate. Wallace worked to a 3-2 count before popping a fly ball into right field. JSU's right fielder made a valiant effort, but there was no way she had a chance to throw out speedster Tiffany Howard. Wallace's sac-fly ended the game with an Auburn 2-1 victory.
I can't say enough about how impressed I was with Jacksonville State's pitcher. She threw an amazing game and you hate to see it have to end that way. But, of course, I'm pulling for the Tigers to win no matter what. The hero of the day for Auburn was without doubt Rachael Walters. The senior entered the game with Jacksonville State feeling some momentum with two runners in scoring position and only one out. She struck out the first five batters she faced and only allowed one hit and one walk in her 4.2 innings pitched.
The Tigers will now face USC Upstate in Game 4 of the Auburn Regional at 1:30pm Central tomorrow afternoon. The Spartans defeated Oregon State 5-2 in Game 1 of the Auburn Regional. For the full schedule and game times, see our earlier post from today.