MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Auburn went the distance in the NCAA Minneapolis Regional this weekend. After losing Friday night to North Dakota State, the Tigers rallied all weekend winning three-straight games to force a final regional game with host-Minnesota on Sunday.
Auburn staved off elimination for the third time in Sunday's game one with the Gophers after freshman Jenna Abbott hit a pinch-hit walk-off home run to will the team to a 4-3 victory in eight innings. Unfortunately, the Tigers couldn't hold a 6-3 lead in game two and fell to Minnesota to be eliminated from postseason play and finish the 2014 season with a 42-19-1 record.
The 42 wins by the Tigers ties for the second-most by an Auburn team in program history going back to the 2004 team that reached the Palo Alto Regional of the NCAA Tournament. Only the 2005 team (50 wins) holds more wins in a season since the program's inception in 1997.
"Our first year, we had 42 wins and were playing in a championship game with the winner going to a Super Regional," Auburn head coach Clint Myers said. "That is the first time that has happened in Auburn's history. We fell a little short. So what we have learned this year and that the disappointment that we are currently feeling, these ladies are going to express those feelings to our team next year. Because nobody wants to feel that until the very end and if you are fortunate enough you may not even have to feel that. Again, I am extremely proud of the ladies that we have only had since August. They did a tremendous job. I am sorry that the seniors did not get to play one more weekend and we will be back."
The Tigers wouldn't have made it to Sunday's final game with a chance of making it to the school's first super regional if it wasn't for the pitching performance of sophomore Lexi Davis.
Starting both games, Davis went a full eight innings in the first game, giving up only three earned runs with one walk and four strike outs. She continued that success into game two until the sixth inning when she gave up a three-run home run that ended up being the game-winner as that homer pushing Minnesota ahead, 8-6.
Davis ended up the weekend picking up two wins to extend her overall record for the season to 22-11, vastly improving on her eight win season a year ago.
"Good teams are good because of the fact that they capitalize on their opponent's mistakes and that is exactly what Minnesota did to us today," Myers said. "We gave them an extra out to play with and they beat us with it. Things could have been a whole lot different if we…well we could still be playing, we just don't know. Good teams take advantage of mistakes and that is what happened today. We preach that every single day, it is the little things in the day that are going to make the difference between winning and losing."
A lot of what propelled the Tigers to the win in Sunday's early game was the offensive performance from the entire lineup including off the bench. In the fifth inning with two runners on, Auburn was looking to pad its 2-0 lead. Redshirt freshman Anna Gibbs came up to pinch hit for Jade Rhodes and delivered with an RBI single down the right field line, scoring the game's third run.
The Gophers tied the game up with three runs in the top of the sixth, just two innings before Abbott had her own pinch hit heroics for her fifth home run of the season.
The momentum from Abbott's home run seemed to have carried over into game two as the Tigers jumped out to a nice 6-3 lead with four of the runs coming from the bat of junior McKenzie Kilpatrick.
The Tigers trailed 3-2 into the top of the third inning, but were able to load the bases on two walks and a hit by pitch. Kilpatrick, another of Auburn's pinch hitters, came in to take her spot in the batters' box in place of Austyn West and made the most of her opportunity. Kilpatrick smacked a high fly ball that fell well beyond the left-centerfield wall to plate four and take a 6-3 lead.
However, Minnesota went on to score five unanswered runs and take the 8-6 victory over the Tigers.
"The legacy of Auburn softball began here in Minneapolis," Myers said. "We are 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 and not be proud of what they accomplished. Because we are so proud of what they did. None of the coaches fielded a ground ball; we didn't take one swing this year. They did it all. They put in the time and effort and believe me, it is a lot different than what they were used to. They went out and did their business. They wanted it."