Auburn lived by the home run on Friday against Louisiana and died by it on Saturday night in a rematch with the Ragin' Cajuns.
In Saturday night's Clemson Regional elimination game, Louisiana smacked three long balls off of Shelby Lowe and KK Dismukes, and Auburn lost 4-2, ending its 2022 season.
"They battled and fought to the end," said head coach Mickey Dean. "I told them before we even started the day, 'good teams quit, and good teams fight on,' and they fought... You can't always dictate the end result. All you can do is battle, and they battled."
Auburn attempted to mount a comeback in the seventh inning, but it fell just short. Entering the inning down by two, a Bri Ellis fly ball fell just short of a home run, and although a run tagged up to score, Jesse Blaine had a similar fate in the next at-bat, as her line drive was caught on the warning track for the third out. The tying run was stranded on second, and Auburn's season came to a close.
Auburn struck first, but after going up 2-0 in the second inning the offense disappeared, and Louisiana scored four consecutive runs to earn the win. Louisiana will go on to face Clemson in the Regional Championship on Sunday.
In the first, Nelia Peralta got the Tigers out to a strong start with an RBI single, and Jesse Blaine kept it going with a sacrifice fly in the second to make it 2-0.
From there, the Auburn bats shut off, and Louisiana found its power stroke.
With Maddie Penta coming off of 200+ pitches in the last day and a half, Auburn started Shelby Lowe on the mound. She had a strong start with a scoreless first inning, but a solo home run in the second and third innings ended her outing.
With a tied score, KK Dismukes then relieved Lowe and had a similar fate to Lowe. She had a sharp fourth inning, but the Ragin' Cajuns got to her and broke the tie in the fifth inning with a two-run homer after the leadoff batter reached on an error by Peralta at shortstop.
Lowe and Dismukes pitched three innings a piece, and they each surrendered two runs. However, only one of Dismukes' runs were earned. Lowe got four Ks, allowed four hits and no walks. Dismukes struck out one and walked one while giving up two hits.
After getting just two hits from the second inning to the sixth inning and scoring none, Auburn made a late offensive scramble in the seventh inning, looking to extend its season. When Kelsey Schmidt got things started with a double, a comeback seemed possible.
Then, with one out, Carlee McCondichie lined one back up the middle. The center fielder, who was playing shallow, jumped to make the catch, but the ball deflected off of her glove. Schmidt moved to third and McCondichie stood on second, representing the tying run.
Bri Ellis, who hit two home runs against Louisiana a day before, stepped up next, and hit a long fly ball to left field that was caught just shy of the wall for the second out. Although this allowed Schmidt to tag up and score easily, this represented the second out and left no margin of error for the Tigers.
With the tying run still standing on second, Jesse Blaine came to the plate. She had already launched a walk-off homer earlier this season against South Carolina, and she almost hit another timely dinger. She put a charge into one, but this time it fell just shy of the wall into the outstretched glove of the left fielder.
Auburn suffered its second one-run loss of the day, and it outhit its opponent in both games. In this one, Auburn notched seven hits to Louisiana's six, but Auburn stranded seven runners as opposed to Louisiana's two.
"The biggest difference in the game is that our extra-base hits were doubles, and theirs were home runs," Dean said.
Auburn's lone error also proved to be costly. A ground ball that ate up Peralta at shortstop to start the fifth inning came in to score on the Ragin' Cajuns homer, and that one run proved to be the difference in the game.
Both with multi-hit games, Auburn freshman Peralta and sophomore Schmidt showed why Auburn has a lot to look forward to in the coming years. Peralta went 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI. Schmidt went a perfect 3-for-3 with a double and a run scored.
"My playing time was lessened this year, so my role this year was to be a good teammate and when I got my chance to do something with it," Schmidt said. "This year was eye opening for me, and I think being a good teammate (is important), but when you get your chance you need to do something with it as well."
With eight freshman on its roster, Auburn was the SEC's youngest team in 2022, and it won 13 more games overall than it did in 2021 and four more conference games. It also improved dramatically on offense, batting .299 while hitting 86 home runs as a club, opposed to hitting .242 with 22 home runs in 2021. The Tigers' .557 slugging percentage stands as the second best in program history, while its home run total is third in program history.
"Our job as coaches is to prepare them, and it's difficult to prepare freshman for the postseason until they've experienced it," Dean said. "A lot of our upperclassmen hadn't experienced a great deal of success in the postseason, so why (getting experience) is important... We fell short of our goal, but that's only going to make us stronger."
The early elimination in the NCAA Regionals is a tough way to end its first 40-win season since 2018, but there is no reason to worry about the young Tigers. This postseason run gave Auburn a lot of invaluable experience that it will take to next season.
"There is a lot of strength in this team and a lot to look forward to," Dean said. "It is a bright future. I am proud of this team. We are only going to get better.”
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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.