Despite a valiant effort from starter Maddie Penta, No. 17 Auburn (39-15) couldn't rally any offense together as it fell 1-0 to No. 24 Missouri (34-19) in its first game of the SEC Tournament in Gainesville, Florida.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game with the two pitchers in the circle,” said head coach Mikey Dean. “They were able to come through with the quality at-bat. That was the difference in the game.”
The game mimicked much of the rest of the season for Auburn's pithing. That is, Penta being a workhorse. She pitched all six innings on 134 pitches.
Although Penta struggled with her command at times, walking six and hitting two batters, No. 9 stranded 10 Missouri runners and racked up 11 Ks in her complete-game outing. Those strikeouts put her in the lead for the most strikeouts in a single season by an Auburn sophomore in program history. She now has 258 Ks in the 2022 season.
She did all she could to keep Auburn in the game, but her one blemish, an RBI double by Missouri leadoff hitter Jenna Laird was enough to give Missouri starter Jordan Weber a win as she baffled Auburn hitters in a complete-game shutout.
Weber and Penta both went the distance for their respective teams, but Weber was able to out-duel her by being much more efficient. The junior threw just 103 pitches, 31 less than Penta, in one more inning than her. The key to her efficiency was using her defense more. She struck out eight and issued just three free passes.
Even though it was a low-scoring pitcher's duel, there were plenty of opportunities for both teams to score. Auburn stranded all seven of its runners, and Missouri stranded 10. There was only one extra-base in the game, and it ended up being the decisive blow in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Auburn hit the ball hard in the game, but Weber had Auburn hitters off balance with her off-speed pitches. As a result, almost everything they hit was to the left side of the field. All four of their hits were hard ground balls to left field.
Getting the bases loaded, Auburn had its best chance to score in the second inning. After two walks, Kelsey Schmidt bunted back to the pitcher and reached first base on a fielder's choice that resulted in full base paths with one out.
Looking to do some damage early, Carlee McCondichie then came up and hit a fly ball mid-depth to right field. It was caught for the second out, and catcher Aubrie Lisenby tagged and bolted home. The right fielder loaded up and threw a dime to home plate on the fly and the tag beat Lisenby for out number three, and the threat ended just as fast as it began.
Auburn put one runner on in each inning for the next four offensive frames, but none of them got past second base. In the seventh, the offense failed to put anything together and went down in order.
With the SEC Tournament loss to the No. 7 seed, No. 10 seed Auburn gets an early exit, but its postseason endeavors may not be done. On Sunday, the Tigers will find out their postseason fate in the NCAA selection show at 6 p.m. CST on ESPN2.
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.
Noah is a senior in journalism from Salem, Alabama. He joined the Plainsman in August of 2021 after transferring in from Southern Union Community College.