Auburn celebrates its SEC Tournament championship
By Charles Goldberg
BATON ROUGE, La. -- The race was on and Carlee Wallace was going to lose. She wasn't going to get away from her teammates, not the ones who wanted to hug and celebrate and share the joy with the freshman catcher.
She wasn't going to escape the excitement, not as she neared second base, or anywhere else, after she delivered the game-winning hit that sent Auburn past Tennessee 6-5 in extra innings to win its first Southeastern Conference Tournament championship Saturday night in Tiger Park.
On a team of home run hitters, Wallace came through with her only hit of the game, a walk-off double, coming in the ninth inning to drive in tournament MVP Emily Carosone. "As soon as I hit the ball I was like, 'Oh my gosh, this has a chance to get through. It was just surreal," Wallace said. "I'm a freshman, and this was my really first big game. But we practice this all the time, every day of the week, and it's just great to see it really happened. This is real. This is so surreal right now. But to be able to celebrate with all my teammates, it's an amazing feeling."
Auburn enjoyed an early lead, but had to score two in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game at 5-5 to force extra innings.
"Tonight's game was intense. We really just battled through it," said Carosone, who went 4-for-5 Saturday and 6-for-9 in the tournament. "The MVP Award is awesome, but I honestly think any one of these girls on our team could have that award."
Auburn celebrated on the field, picked up its tournament hardware there, then loaded up for a bus ride that would put the Tigers back in Auburn around 8 or 9 Sunday morning. They could rest easy on the way, coming home as champions with a 49-9 record and an invitation to the NCAA Tournament waiting on Sunday night when they'll most likely learn they're a national tournament seed. Auburn will surely host an NCAA Regional next weekend, and, if it advances out of that, likely a Super Regional.
Coach Clint Myers had pointed to such things all season. But on this Saturday night, it was time to celebrate the conference title.
"You saw the jubilation and the excitement when they mobbed Carlee at second base," Myers said. "That's why we do it. That's why we play these games so they can experience something very special."
It was a championship, and a prelude to the NCAAs.
"In the regional, Super Regional and then the World Series, they're going to see everything because it's so uniquely different than anything they've ever experienced," Myers said. "Hopefully, this will get them to really focus on the feeling of being a champion."
Auburn came close to winning the regular-season conference title, finishing a half-game behind champion Florida. There would be no near-misses Saturday night.
Auburn struck early, scoring in the first on a Kasey Cooper RBI groundout, and then adding two more in the second when Jenna Abbott walked with the bases loaded and Carosone drove in another on infield single.
Tennessee scored one in the fourth, then three in the fifth to take a 4-3 lead. It was 5-3 heading to the bottom of the seventh. That's when Auburn tied it on a Branndi Melero groundout and a Tennessee error, then won it in the ninth.
Rachel Walters improved her record to 17-3, allowing one run in three-and-two-thirds inning of relief. Rainey Gaffin fell to 14-3.
What's next? Auburn had the long bus ride, a team banquet and an NCAA selection show to watch, all less than 24 hours after winning the tournament. Oh, a few players still have finals to take.
"After that," Myers said, "it's softball, 24-7."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine