Unlike the previous games in the Auburn Regional, where runs were hard to come by and opportunities couldn't be wasted, the Tigers took control of the Regional final early and continued to build with each passing inning.
Jacksonville State came into the Regional Final having played 21 innings of softball Saturday. First was a marathon 14 inning game in which ace pitcher Whitney Gillespie threw 178 pitches before being pulled in the 12th. The Gamecocks defeated Oregon State 5-4 in 14 in Game 1 and then defeated USC Upstate in Game 2 immediately following. Gillespie came on in that game to close it out, bringing her weekend total up to over 300 pitches.
Running on fumes, the Gamecocks just couldn't take the onslaught that was the awakening of Auburn's bats. It started with a 4 run 1st inning that chased Gillespie from the mound early. As so often seems to happen with Auburn Softball, all 4 runs were scored with 2 outs. Kasey Cooper, Carlee Wallace, Jade Rhodes, and Courtney Shea all crossed the plate thanks to a series of two-out hits and throwing errors.
The Tigers added 1 in the 2nd inning, and almost had 2, as Kasey Cooper crossed the plate on a wild pitch. Carlee Wallace tried to follow right on her heels, but what thrown out at the plate. With the score 5-0, the Gamecocks finally got on the board thanks to a Stephanie Lewis home run.
The floodgates really opened in the Top of the 3rd, though. A run was added on an RBI walk by Jenna Abbot to make it 6-1, and then Tiffany Howard came to the plate with the bases juiced. Tiffany Howard, the senior who hit the first home run of her career last week in the SEC Tournament finale. Tiffany Howard, the slapper, not known for being a power hitter. It was Howard who really blew the game open on one swing:
BOOM. @Auburn_Softball’s Tiffany Howard must have known she was on #BasesLoaded channel. 1st career GRAND SLAMhttps://t.co/2id7Ea2rxr— ESPNU (@ESPNU) May 22, 2016
The inning wasn't over, though. Carosone doubled and then Kasey Cooper followed with a double of her own to add another RBI. Jacksonville State would add another run of their own in the bottom half of the third to make it 11-2, but the Tigers had already entered run-rule territory.
Three more runs would be added in the 4th for Auburn. Jade Rhodes came across the plate thanks to a throwing error on a Victoria Draper bunt. With two outs, Emily Carosone came to the plate and drove home 2 more to increase the lead to 14-2.
Marcy Harper entered the game in the 4th for Auburn, following great performances by first Rachael Walters and then Makayla Martin, and got the Gamecocks 1-2-3. The Tigers failed to get a run in an inning for the first time in the game in the Top of the 5th, and then Lexi Davis came on to close the game out for the 14-2 run-rule victory.
The Tigers' bats were quiet for much of the Regional, but starting coming alive in the USC-Upstate game. They continued through the Regional Final against Jacksonville State. That's going to be key for the Tigers as they will now host a Super Regional for the second straight season next weekend.
It's hard to pick a player of the game for this one. Emily Carosone continued her ways of getting clutch hits and driving in runs. I swear most of her RBIs come with 2 outs on the board. Tiffany Howard's grand slam was an amazing moment. Jade Rhodes had some great plays, too. I think I'm just going to give the MVP to the whole team. They played as a team, each complimenting the others, and it was a spectacular performance against a very tough Jacksonville State team.
Hats off to JSU for their performance, too. They played a murderous three days of softball, and just couldn't withstand the onslaught of the Tigers' offense after the previous two days' experience.
For Auburn, the Tigers will face the Arizona Wildcats, the winner of the Tennessee Regional. Arizona defeated Regional host Tennessee, who had only lost one game at home this season prior to the Regional, in walk-off fashion in Game 1 of the Regional Final. Arizona and their head coach are very familiar with Auburn head coach Clint Myers from his time with Arizona State. While it appears the Tigers have an easier path since the seeded team didn't advance, never underestimate how tough that familiarity can make things.