March 30, 2014
LEXINGTON, Ky. - The No. 21 Auburn softball team won its third-straight conference series of the year Sunday, taking game one of the double-header with No. 10 Kentucky, 6-4, at John Cropp Stadium. Unfortunately, Auburn lost a 1-0 lead late in the final game, dropping the series finale, 2-1, to the Wildcats, to put its overall record at 31-6-1 and 6-3 in Southeastern Conference play.
"The team is starting to develop a character," Auburn head coach Clint Myers said. "They've proven that they can be very competitive all year long. We still have some growing to do and maturing to do. We have to be better at the little things, but they're moving in the right direction. To take two of three from a great club like Kentucky, it says something about their character and their abilities. We had very good pitching out of Lexi (Davis) and Marcy (Harper), we played pretty good defense and had some timely hitting and we're staying with the formula we think is necessary for success."
The series win over the top-10 Wildcats is Auburn's first over a top-10 team since taking two games from a 4th-ranked Georgia team at home in 2011. Auburn had never won a top-10 series on the road in school history until today.
"We beat a good ball club at their place," Myers said. "We're hoping to start the history and the legacy with these kids. They're very excited to have that, you can see it in their faces. They're disappointed because they wanted a third one. That's what they have to do. They have to be hungry and be competitive for three-straight games. We just came up a little short today in the third game."
Sophomore Jade Rhodes had the big at-bat for Auburn on Sunday, hitting a grand slam in the first game to spot Auburn four runs early. It's Rhodes' sixth home run of the year and third grand slam this season. The slam turned out to be a big momentum boost for the Tigers as they went on to score two more times in the game to earn the victory and the series win. She went on to have one more hit in the game to finish 2-for-4 in game one, but went 0-for-4 in game two.
In the circle, sophomore Lexi Davis picked up her 16th win of the season in Sunday's first game, going seven innings and giving up only four earned runs on six hits and getting six strikeouts. For Davis, its her ninth win in her last 10 starts. Sophomore Marcy Harper started game two and looked to be well on her way to staying undefeated, but gave up two late runs to Kentucky and suffered the 2-1 loss to drop her record to 14-1.
Going back to the series clinching victory in Sunday's game one, Auburn and Kentucky seemed to be in a pitcher's duel as both teams couldn't get any runs on the board through the first two innings. Kentucky starting pitcher, Lauren Cumbess pitched the first inning for UK, giving up only one hit, but got into a collision with Rhodes at first base on a ground ball in the bottom of the first and was forced to be taken of the game. Meagan Prince was brought in to relieve the injured Cumbess in the second inning.
Prince threw a scoreless second inning and seemed to keep the Auburn offense in check, but the Tigers struck in the third inning. After redshirt junior Morgan Estell walked and freshman Kasey Cooper reached on a Kentucky error, junior Branndi Melero walked to load the bases for Rhodes.
With already one grand slam this week, coming against Georgia State on Wednesday, the sophomore sent a rocket over the left-centerfield wall to clear the bases and give Auburn the 4-0 advantage. The home run was Rhodes' sixth of the year and third grand slam this season. Rhodes finished the game 2-for-4 with one run scored and all four of her RBI off the slam.
Davis continued to keep the Kentucky offense off the basepaths through the majority of the game, allowing only two hits into the sixth inning. She got some insurance runs in the sixth as Cooper singled home Emily Carosone to make it 5-0 Tigers. The RBI single was the freshman's only hit of the day.
The inning continued with a Melero single and a Rhodes double to put runners on second and third with two outs, bringing up pinch hitter Anna Gibbs. Gibbs, who had a home run in Wednesday's game against Georgia State, came through again with a single up the middle scoring Melero and pushing Auburn's lead to 6-0.
Kentucky nearly pulled off the comeback again in the bottom half of the second inning, scoring four runs, two off a home run by Nikki Sagermann to bring the deficit to 6-4. Davis was able to settle down and end the inning with two groundouts before more damage was done and finish the game for her 16th win of the year.
In game two, Auburn brought sophomore Marcy Harper in the circle for her first start this weekend, while Kentucky went back to its game one starter, Kelsey Nunley. Both pitchers matched each other blow for blow as neither team could bring a run across through the first four innings.
Auburn finally got one in the scoring column in the top of the fifth as Tiffany Howard led things off with a walk, followed by an Estell single down the left field line. Melero added another RBI to her continuously-growing season total with a single scoring Howard from second to give the Tigers the slim lead.
Kentucky re-took the lead for good in the bottom of the sixth after loading the bases with one out and getting and RBI single by Maisie Steed and an RBI walk from Ansley Smith. The Tigers tried to extend the game in the top of the seventh, getting a double by Carosone and walks from Cooper and Melero. Rhodes popped out to end the game and give Kentucky the win.
"You look at what we've been able to do this weekend," Myers said. "It wasn't a perfect weekend, but clearly it was a weekend where we're moving in the right direction and getting better. That's the goal. We want to be playing our best softball come postseason time."
Auburn gets back on the field to continue its road swing next weekend when it faces Florida inGainesville starting a three-game series on Friday, April 5th. First pitch is scheduled for 5:05 p.m.