It wasn't easy, but strong pitching and a late-inning home run by Alyssa Rivera was the difference in a grudge-match, No. 11 Auburn improved to 34-7 on the season with a 2-1 win over Kennesaw State Wednesday night.
A solo home run by Alyssa Rivera in the fifth inning put Auburn ahead for good as Kaylee Carlson earned her 16th win of the season. The win was also the 62nd of her career which tied Lexi Davis for the most in Auburn history.
Carlson praised her teammates when she found out about tying the record.
"It just means all the work we put in as a team pays off," Carlson said. "I couldn't do it without them."
Strong pitching has been a major strength for the Tigers in head coach Mickey Dean's first season. The combination of Carlson and Makayla Martin has been tough for opposing hitters all season long.
"Our pitchers work hard," Dean said. "I don't think anyone understands how hard our pitchers work. When a head coach is also the pitching coach, it makes things pretty tough. Eyes are on them all the time. But they have stepped up and done a tremendous job."
Auburn struggled early to capitalize with runners in scoring position. Victoria Draper was hit by a pitch in the first and stole her 37th base of the season, but three-straight strikeouts kept Draper from scoring.
The Tigers threatened again in the third when KK Crocker led off the inning with a walk. Draper followed up with a bunt single and Taylon Snow had a sac-bunt to move the runners to second and third. Auburn couldn't capitalize.
"I think we got a little anxious early in the game," Dean said. "I think we got a little impatient. I thought our at-bats were much better later in the game. We were more patient and made her throw more pitches.
A solo home run in the top of the fourth gave Kennesaw State the early lead. Auburn immediately came back and tied the game with an RBI single from Crocker. Rivera's solo home run to left field was all the scoring the Tigers would need.
"She made a few minor adjustments two weeks ago and it's been huge for her," Dean said. "Now she's in a groove."
No. 11 Auburn 34-7 (7-5) hosts No. 8 Tennessee 32-6 (4-5) in an SEC matchup this weekend at Jane B. Moore Field. First pitch of the series is scheduled for Friday at 5:30 p.m. CT