Jade Rhodes celebrates her RBI triple as Clint Myers looks on during Auburn's NCAA Regional win
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. -- They received quite a scare, these Auburn Tigers, when their catcher went down hard in a home-plate collision.
But Auburn showed resolve, rallied the next inning and went on to advance to its first NCAA softball Super Regional.
Auburn beat South Alabama 7-4 Sunday to win the first-round NCAA Regional at Jane B. Moore Field and will host a Super Regional round next week, too. Auburn is waiting to learn its opponent, either Baylor or Louisiana-Lafayette, but will do so with the happy thought that catcher Carlee Wallace should be OK to play after she was taken away from the ballpark in ambulance, but returned to watch the final inning of a tense game in the dugout. The Super Regional will begin at 1 p.m. Friday, ESPN announced.
Auburn improved to a school-record 52-9 and is now two wins away from the College World Series in Oklahoma City. It would be Auburn's first trip in the 19-year history of the program. The crowd Sunday cheered the Tigers toward that goal.
"It's nice we got to do it here," said second baseman Emily Carosone. "It's something Auburn has never done before. It's nice to be a part of it."
Auburn needed a comeback to make it happen.
"The key to the game was to win it for Carlee," said third baseman Kasey Cooper. "After the incident at home plate, we were playing for her. We just needed to control and contain them that inning, and we told Rachael, you get us out of this inning, we will win for you."
Pitcher Rachael Walters did that in relief. She didn't allow a hit in three-and-two-thirds innings. She improved to 18-3.
The Tigers led 2-1 in the fateful fourth before the home-plate collision in which a South Alabama's Amanda Minahan lost her balance and stumbled into her. South Alabama led 4-2 by the time the long inning was over -- that after a 37-minute delay because of the injury and Auburn's argument the runner didn't score after the collision.
But Auburn scored four the next inning and added an insurance run in the sixth, and it was on to a Super Regional.
Myers was happy to say "they've accomplished something no other Auburn team has done" in winning a spot in a Super Regional.
"Again, I still believe our best softball lies ahead of us, which going forward, we're going to have to play," he said.
It was a regional three-game sweep for Auburn, and a regional of milestones: Auburn's first trip to the Super Regionals, a school-record 51st victory on Saturday and coach Clint Myers' 1,000th win as a college softball coach on Friday.
Myers said his Tigers are "very talented. They're not afraid of hard work. It's them controlling their own emotions, them controlling their own efforts, it's them controlling their own outcome."
Myers also said he expects Wallace, who had the game-winning hit in the SEC Tournament championship game, to return to action.
"She may have to take a day off, and she'll be a little sore, but doctors gave her the thumbs up. We're good to go," Myers said.
It was a Jade Rhodes RBI triple, a Tiffany Howard RBI single and a two-run double by Emily Carosone in the fifth that gave Auburn the 6-4 lead. Rhodes walked with the bases loaded in the sixth for an insurance run. The Tigers' first two runs came when Tiffany Howard was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the first, and when Cooper delivered an RBI single in the fourth.
"Today," Myers said of the hitting, "was clearly a step forward in the direction we need to go to do the things we want to do."
What Auburn wants to do is go to the College World Series. The Tigers are two wins away.
Tickets for the Super Regional were to go on sale on Auburn's ticket website at 8 p.m. Sunday.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine