Tigers walk-off in extras to win home-opening thriller
Following a 3-1 finish in the Triple Crown Tournament in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico last week, the second-ranked Auburn Tigers came home to Jane B. Moore Field to begin a 21-game home stand.
Standing in their way were the Cougars of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, a gritty, 5-0 squad from the Ohio Valley Conference. The Cougars gave the Tigers all they could handle through seven innings on Thursday night, deadlocking Auburn at three runs a piece heading into extra innings and closing in on a monumental upset.
Carmyn Greenwood had other plans.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, with runners on second and third, the freshman smacked the pitch into right field, bringing home Bree Fornis. The walk-off single, set up by a perfectly executed bunt by Courtney Shea, sealed the 4-3 home-opening victory for Auburn. (4-1)
Auburn received efficient pitching efforts at both the starter and closer positions. Makayla Martin turned in a season-high seven strikeouts, the most since her nine-strikeout performance against Indiana last season. That mark serves as Martin’s career-high. The sophomore pitched six innings and absorbed all of SIUE’s three runs and five hits, finishing with an ERA of 1.02.
Carlson stepped in for the seventh and eighth innings after the Cougars’ explosion in the top of the sixth.
A 5-4-3 double play converted by Auburn posted a quick pair of outs in the sixth, with a single runner on first. SIUE junior Tess Eby smashed Martin’s next pitch all the way to the wall, where the Tigers committed two costly errors. The inept defensive sequence brought home a Cougar runner and thinned Auburn’s lead to one.
Allison Smiley’s left field single brought Eby home from second during the next at-bat, tying the game. Martin was bailed out by a ground-out and escaped to the seventh inning.
Carlson allowed a few runners on in the seventh but ultimately delivered, giving Auburn the opportunity to win it in regulation. The Tigers came up empty, but Carlson continued her domination in extras. The junior pitcher snagged a hit behind her back for the second out in the eighth, then rifled a clutch strikeout to allow for Greenwood’s walk-off.
“The pitchers aren’t going to be able to carry us all season,” Auburn head coach Clint Meyers said. “They gave up five hits and three runs and did a good job.”
The Tigers continued to struggle offensively, a trend that has Meyers concerned in the early season.
“I was a little surprised,” Meyers said. “I anticipated much better execution. I’m believing that we’re going to snap out of it, or we’re going to have to make some changes.
“We had two ground-balls in eight innings. That’s not our mindset and that’s not our game plan. The number of strikeouts and pop-ups is ridiculous. We’ve got to hit, just plain and simple. We’ve got to find people who can swing the bat and put some numbers on the board.”
Carlee Wallace and Kendall Veach were the go-to offensive producers in the win. Wallace drove in a two-run home run in the first inning and Veach smacked a wall-clearing solo home run in the fourth.
“I believe it’s coming, we’re all well overdue,” Wallace said of the hitting struggles. “We’re all just down right now, we’re being a little too hard on ourselves. We need to work on relaxing and trying to have some fun.”
The Tigers were forced to utilize a modified defensive lineup, as junior Emily Spain replaced the injured Casey McCrackin at second base. Spain made all of the plays that came her way in McCrackin’s absence, including the execution of the Tigers’ double play in the sixth.
“When your number is called, you step up,” Spain said. “I’ve been preparing all year and every year I’ve been here. When your number is called, you go out there and you play Auburn Softball. We’re disciplined, we know how to do it. It’s just about taking what you do in practice and executing in a game.”
SIUE’s Haley Chambers-Brook pitched all eight innings, matching Martin’s seven strikeouts. The senior also led the team in hits with two and earned a RBI. The loss was the Cougars’ first of the year, dropping the squad to 5-1.
Auburn improves to 4-1 in their second extra-innings game of the season, the previous being their lone loss to Washington in Mexico. The No. 2 Tigers play a doubleheader on Friday afternoon, leading off with Creighton at 2:30 p.m. CST and capping with a SIUE rematch. Both games are scheduled to be televised on the SEC Network Plus.