Day 1 of the Triple Crown Tournament in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico is in the books, and the Tigers had two games against two nationally ranked foes to start the season.
vs. #1 Oklahoma
The first game was against a very familiar foe: last year's College World Series Championship opponent the Oklahoma Sooners. Auburn was out for revenge for its defeat in the finals and they got exactly what they came for.
Auburn got on the board early thanks to a Courtney Shea RBI that drove home Carlee Wallace. They added another run in the 3rd thanks to a Kendall Veach bomb to center field. Meanwhile, sophomore Makayla Martin was dealing from the mound. She didn't record a strikeout, but she did an excellent job at making the Sooners put the ball on the ground throughout the game.
The Tigers were able to get some good hits on Missouri transfer Paige Lowary early on, but she settled in as the game went on. She's no Paige Parker - few pitchers are - but Lowary was Missouri's ace last season and has made a number of national rosters, so she's no slouch.
The play of the game for Auburn may have come in the bottom of the 6th when the Sooners had two runners on and only one out. Casey McCrakin fielded a ball at 2nd, tagged the advancing runner, and flipped the ball to 1st to get the Tigers out of a jam and in the inning.
Veach added a second home run in her first start at first base in the top of the 7th inning to give the Tigers some much-needed insurance. That ended up being the difference in the game. Oklahoma rallied in the bottom of the 7th with 2 runs and put two runners on with only one out. Kaylee Carlson replaced Makayla Martin and sat the next two batters down - one looking, one swinging - to end the game and give the Tigers a 3-2 victory.
vs. #13 Washington
Game 2 of the night was against another team who made it to the Women's College World Series last year: the Washington Huskies. The Huskies hail from one - if not THE - best conferences for softball in the nation.
The Tigers had the benefit of the early game to shake some rust off and it showed in the first inning. Auburn was able to get runners aboard and a run across the plate thanks to a wild pitch. That was the only action in this game for a while as Washington's pitcher Taran Alvelo settled in and Kaylee Carlson for Auburn picked up right where she left off in relief of Martin from Game 1.
Washington had something going in the top of the 6th, but Kasey Cooper was able to make a great defensive play - one of many to come, I'm sure, as Coop is just as good in the field as she is at the plate - to slow the rally and let Carlson get the Huskies to ground out and end the threat.
The 6th added with Auburn putting Courtney Shea on first on a hit-by-pitch. The Tigers only had 2 hits to the Huskies' 8 by the Bottom 6th, so base runners in any form were a premium for the Tigers. Unfortunately, they couldn't do anything with it, and Washington rallied in the Bottom 7th putting a runner across the plate with one out on a ball misfielded by Victoria Draper. It's possible the runner would have scored anyway, but there was no chance at a throw with the miscue.
The Huskies came close to taking the lead with runners on the corners, but Kaylee Carlson escaped the inning with no further damage and Auburn came to the plate hoping to end the game before it went into extra frames.
Auburn got nothing going in the Bottom 7th and they went to extra innings. On a hard hit ball by Washington's 2nd batter, Draper made up for her earlier mistake and went sliding into a low catch for a fantastic grab to save a big hit. The Tigers got lucky on the 3rd out as replay showed the base runner hit the bag before the throw reached Veach's glove. Auburn again followed in the bottom 8th with nothing but a runner stranded on 1st.
In the Top 9th, Makayla Martin came back to the circle to relieve Carlson. She got the first two outs with ease, but then a ball of Fagan's forearm put one on and a walk put two with no outs followed by a bunt single to load the bases. Thankfully, Fagan came back and fielded a ground ball for the out at first to end yet another threat. Auburn came out and once again went 1-2-3 to send it to the 10th.
The Top 10th couldn't have started worse for Auburn as the Huskies put their first two runners on base. A double-play ball helped the Tigers get 2 outs with only a runner on 3rd, but that was enough for the Huskies as the next batter blooped a single into left and scored the runner for the 2-1 lead. Morgan Podany made a beautiful diving catch on another ball hit into shallow left to get out of the inning, but the damage was done in this pitcher's duel.
Carlee Wallace hustled out a hard-hit ball for a single to lead off the bottom 10th for Auburn. Fagan popped out for the first out of the inning, Kendall Veach struck out for the 2nd out, and KK Crocker went down swinging for the final out of the game and the 2-1 Washington victory.
Credit where it's due, Taran Alvelo pitched an amazing game. She only gave up 4 hits to the Tigers' normally potent offense. She was the Huskies' pitcher for the entire game, throwing 169 pitches on the night.
Of note tonight is that Clint Myers put in true freshmen pinch hitters in clutch situations multiple times. He said he wanted to give his young players a playoff feel early on and that obviously didn't mean just his usual starters. He also wanted to give his newcomers an early taste at the pressure against the best in college softball. He knows his team is primed to make a deep run and he wants everyone ready to go.
Clint Myers definitely cares about winning. But he knows that winning in May and June is more important than winning in February and that showed in the way he managed the game tonight.
I honestly thought there was a good chance Auburn could finish the day 0-2. I'll take 1-1, but it is a bit frustrating knowing how close they were to coming out 2-0.
Next up for Auburn is a 2 pm Central game against Nebraska. They'll finish with a 10 am central game against BYU Saturday morning before returning to Auburn.