What does a pitching staff mean to a softball team? It means a lot.
Arizona's ace pitcher Danielle O'Toole shut Auburn down with the exception of a few hits in Saturday night's Game 1 of the Auburn Super Regional. Arizona's small ball offense gave the Tigers fits to the tune of four runs in the top of the 6th inning without a ball getting out of the in-field, and Auburn couldn't come back even with Jade Rhodes leading off the bottom of the 7th with a home run to cut the score to 5-3.
That's where the staff comes in, though. Kaylee Carlson threw most of Game 1 for Auburn, with Rachel Walters coming on in the 6th. Danielle O'Toole went the distance for the Wildcats. When Sunday afternoon's Game 2 came along, with Auburn needing to win to stretch the series to the Game 3, the Tigers put in a fresh arm in freshman Makayla Martin. Arizona, meanwhile, tried a new pitcher, but quickly put O'Toole back in the game in the 1st inning.
The Wildcats looked to continue things in Game 2, scoring 1 run in the bottom of the 2nd, but a big rally in the 4th - sparked by an "unorthodox" play where Carosone was given 2nd base after 1st baseman interference was ruled when she had otherwise been thrown out - gave the Tigers a 4-1 lead that they held on to through the end of Game 2 for the win. Makayla Martin went the distance for the Tigers, while Arizona had to use three different pitchers.
Arizona again tried to pitch O'Toole in the decisive Game 3. Auburn opened with 2 runs in the 1st inning off the bats of Kasey Cooper and Carlee Wallace. Two more crossed the plate in the 3rd, against thanks to Carlee Wallace, who continues her clutch post-season hitting.
The magic happened in the Bottom of the 5th, though, as Haley Fagan - who didn't play during the entire regular season for Auburn after tearing her ACL in the fall - launched a ball into deep left field for a solo home run. Fagan has been struggling to get things going and is not full speed running the bases, and this was one of only 2-3 hits she's had since getting back in. It was a big one, though, giving Auburn the 5-0 lead.
Arizona finally put one on the board in the Top 6th on Kaylee Carlson, who had pitched a masterful game. The Tigers added another run on an Emily Carosone RBI in the Bottom 6th to make it 6-1 and loaded the bases with 2 outs for Jade Rhodes with a chance to walk-off run-rule the game, but the Wildcats got out of the inning.
Arizona had one last shot in the Top of the 7th, and they put together a pretty good rally early on with three straight singles to load the bases with zero outs. A great catch by Kasey Cooper on a line drive got out #1, another snag on a line drive by Jade Rhodes was out #2, and then a chopped ball right in front of the plate that Carlee Wallace snagged and stepped on the plate ended the game.
This will be the 2nd trip in a row to Oklahoma City for Auburn and the 2nd trip in the school's history. Clint Myers arrived on campus and told his team they would play in the Women's College World Series. He has truly delivered.
In the Women's College World Series, Auburn's first game will be against the winner of the Oregon/UCLA Regional. As of this publishing, that looks to be Oregon, who won Game 1 and currently has a lead on UCLA early in Game 2. The games begin Thursday, 2 June. For a full schedule, see the NCAA's website. You can also go there to get tickets if you'd like to make the trip out to Oklahoma City.
War Eagle, Ladies! Good luck!