By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Kasey Cooper and Emily Carosone pack quite a punch in Auburn's lineup, but the two home run hitters had to give their due Sunday to the Tigers' newest slugger in post-season play.
Tiffany Howard's grand slam — just her second career homer but her second long ball in eight days — punctuated Auburn's 14-2 victory over Jacksonville State that sent the Tigers to next weekend's Super Regionals against Arizona. The No. 4 Tigers, now 53-9, will play No. 18 Arizona, 39-19, at Jane B. Moore Field in a best-of-three series Saturday and Sunday.
Howard, who didn't hit a home run in her first 677 college at-bats, has now hit homers in the SEC Tournament and the NCAAs. Her slam was part of six-run third inning that pushed Auburn to an 11-1 lead.
Cooper, Auburn's all-time home run hitter, and Carosone, who has 12 homers this season, was happy to share the spotlight with their unlikely home-run-hitting teammate.
"What happened? I don't know," Howard said with a smile.
"Me and Cooper," said Carosone, "both hit the wall. Tiff's our power hitter now."
There was plenty to smile about after pounding out 12 hits and scoring the 14 runs in the first four innings. The game was called after five innings because of the run-rule. Auburn pitchers swept through three games of the regional by allowing only three earned runs in three games. Marcy Harper improved to 7-2 Sunday with an inning of no-hit relief.
Sunday was a far cry than when Auburn played Jacksonville State in the regional opener Friday. The Tigers won that one 2-1 in walk-off fashion. Auburn doubled its run total in the first inning Sunday and kept going.
"It's a good feeling to put a lot of runs up, play Auburn softball, especially going to the Supers," Cooper said.
The Auburn-Arizona Super Regional will begin at 5:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPN2. The second game is scheduled for1 p.m. Sunday on ESPN. A third game, if necessary, is scheduled for 4 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU.
Auburn's celebration was muted Sunday. There's more work ahead.
"It's our expectation now," Carosone said. "We expect to make it to the Supers, we expect to make it to the World Series, we expect to play Auburn softball. Our softball puts us 10, 12 runs ahead. That's not really an exciting game, but we did our jobs."
But it was exciting to the fans. And it was good for coach Clint Myers, too.
"I thought we played extremely well. I thought we got some very good pitching in the circle, we played good defense, the bats really woke up," he said.
"We're moving in the right direction and we're going to get ready for the Supers. We're real excited that the Super Regionals are here because the fans today... it was packed, they were loud, it was boisterous. You could just feel the energy coming down, and the girls just love playing in front of them."
Courtney Shea drove in one and Madi Gipson two more in the four-run first. Auburn scored a run on a wild pitch in the second, then hammered the Gamecocks with Howard's grand slam and RBIs from Jenna Abbott and Kasey Cooper in the third. Carosone drove in two in the fourth.
"If we're going to lose, lose to the best," said Jacksonville coach Jana McGinnis. "Auburn will possibly be World Series champs."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine