May 18, 2014
McKenzie Kilpatrick connected here with a grand slam against Minnesota
By Charles Goldberg
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- The game was an inning too long, the season ended a few weeks too early, a pitch turned into a home run, and so it was that Minnesota slipped past Auburn 8-6 in the NCAA regional softball championship game here Sunday.
But Auburn coach Clint Myers, a man used to winning championships, says the Tigers learned a lot in his first season on the job, and promised they'll return to the regionals, and go beyond.
"We're sorry we have to go home, but very proud of what they did," Myers said.
"We will be back."
Auburn forced Minnesota into a winner-take-all championship game by beating the Gophers 4-3 in Sunday's first game on a dramatic extra-inning homer from pinch hitter Jenna Abbott. It looked as if Auburn would win the second game in a similar fashion when pinch hitter McKenzie Kilpatrick hit a grand slam for a 6-3 lead in the third inning. Pinch hitter Madi Gipson had two RBIs, too. But Minnesota topped that when Sam Macken hit a game-winning 3-run homer in the bottom of the sixth. The Gophers advanced to a Super Regional series at Oregon.
Auburn went home with a 42-19-1 record, a mark that tied for the second-most wins in school history.
"I'm extremely proud of them. Our coaching staff is extremely proud of them," Myers aid. "If you had said we would had 42 wins, and the RPI we had of 15 coming into the playoffs" it would have surprised some.
But Myers quickly taught Auburn fundamentals and how to win.
"For a team full of freshman of various ages, I think they did a great job," he said. "Ultimately, the legacy of Auburn softball started in Minneapolis as far as the playoffs. We're going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future. There is no reason, none whatsoever, that any of those ladies should have their heads down.
"We're so proud of what they did."
Auburn won three elimination games here after losing its opener Friday night. And the Tigers found the dramatics, whether on Abbott's homer, or Kilpatrick's homer, or Kasey Cooper's homer that won the third game that got Auburn to Sunday's games.
Centerfielder Morgan Estell said Abbott's homer that forced the final game was uplifting.
"It's the best feeling. We were pumped. We wanted to keep going. We want to keep going in the post-season, but fell a little short," Estell said.
There were the dramatic homers, to be sure, and there was the gutty performance of pitcher Lexi Davis, who had to start all five games because Auburn's other primary starter, Marci Harper, was hurt and wasn't active for the series.
Davis won two games, including one Sunday and came within a pitch or two of winning another.
"It's character," Myers said. "She didn't want to come out. 'Coach, I can do this.' I want people in there who is trying. You can't fault her for not wanting to be in there. That's why we're so proud of them."
Myers said Davis deserved to try to win it because "we're here because of how she pitched all year long."
"She went out there and gave it everything she had."
The Tigers were trying to fight their way out of the loser's bracket after falling to North Dakota State on Friday. Auburn almost did by beating Green Bay and North Dakota State on Saturday, and by beating home-standing Minnesota in Sunday's early game. Home runs, something that came so easily to these Tigers all season, carried them for much of the weekend.
There was a buzz.
It was the kind of atmosphere Myers talked about when he first met with the team.
"He told us we were going to the World Series. We were like 'what?'" Estell said. "Coming from not even making the SEC Tournament to someone saying that, he was so full of confidence. When he steps on the field you can feel his presence."
Still can, even after the loss.
"We'll be back," Estell predicted.
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine