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A spirit that is not afraid

Long ball powers Tigers past Rebels to open series

It's a conference game, not a home run derby, but don't tell Auburn that.

Auburn (27-9, 5-2 SEC) took down Ole Miss, 8-2, to open the series at Jane B. Moore field behind a season-high tying four homers that plated seven of the team's runs. 

The onslaught of power came courtesy of the bottom of the order for the Tigers. Although leadoff hitter Nelia Peralta reached base for the 34th game this season and got her 10th multi-hit game of the campaign, it was hitters five through eight in the order that led the charge. 

That part of the lineup saw a shuffle in order. Ellis, typical cleanup hitter, batted sixth, while Aubrie Lisenby moved up to fifth. Denver Bryant leapfrogged eight-hole hitter Aspyn Godwin to seventh in the order, as she has barreled the ball up better in recent play. The lineup shuffle played in Auburn's favor and helped Ellis find her swing again.

"[Moving down in the order] helped me see more pitches, and they pitch to each batter differently, so it's a different approach than if I was batting third," Ellis said. "So now I can see however many right-handed hitters we have up there and how the pitcher approaches them, and I can see more spin and get better timing."

The combination of Lisenby, Ellis, Bryant and Godwin delivered a 6-for-10 performance with four homers, accounting for all of Auburn's offense except for Peralta's pair of singles and Abbey Smith's run off a passed ball in the fifth inning. After hitting 86 bombs last season as a unit, the Tigers are up to 45 on the season with 20 games remaining in the regular season. 

The explosion helped Ellis break out of a 2-for-25 slump she had going over the past nine games, and it was her first homer since March 10 at Georgia.

"I just feel really good right now. I feel really confident," Ellis said. "I kind of had to sit down and talk to myself and say, 'I got it, like I have to calm down and play.' I was up there just so uptight and swinging at everything and taking strikes. So, instead of worrying about balls and strikes, I was just up there seeing somehing I could hit and it worked out."

On the other hand, Bryant's 2-for-3 night has her batting average up to .298. It stands as her third multi-hit game this season after she started off slow in 2023 while making a comeback from an ACL tear last season. Bryant's resurgence is recognized by her teammates, and her situation is one that Godwin, now a graduate student, closely relates to. 

"That's my best bud. I love me some Denver," Godwin said. "I'm glad that she's back from injury. It's hard; I know what she went through. I tore my ACL coming into Auburn, so my freshman year. I mean, I went through the same thing she did, so it's awesome to see her overcoming that because I know how she feels. It stinks."

While the dinger stole the show, Penta quietly shut down the Ole Miss offense with nine strikeouts while allowing just a pair of hits and walks on two runs (one earned) in the complete-game effort. The win improves the junior's record to 15-4, and she now has 175 Ks in 111.1 innings pitched this season. 

But the complete game did not come without some trouble. Starting the sixth inning with an 8-1 lead, Penta loaded the bases to start with a HBP, single and walk before recording an out. The second Ole Miss run of the game came in to score on a passed ball but Penta took care of the rest, stranding two with a pair of infield flies and a timely punch-out. 

"I didn't go out there (for the sixth inning) with as much focus as I should have. I just got a little bit lazy, honestly," Penta said. "Games are in good hands as you get further and further in and you have a lot of runs on them. I got lazy, and we paid for it. It is what it is, but it's good to work out of it. I haven't really been in a bases-loaded situation all year, so you know, always learning; always getting experience."

Starting the launch party the first time through the order, Ellis launched a moonshot down the left-field line for her ninth of the season in the second inning. Two batters later, Godwin hit one well past the scoreboard in left field to give her two straight games with a homer and five on the year. That gave Auburn a 3-0 lead after two innings, but that was just Auburn's warm-up.

Ole Miss got its first run in the third on a solo shot from Paige Smith, but Auburn put that rally to bed quickly. 

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A pair of two-run bombs from Lisenby (2) and then Bryant (3) put four runs on the board for Auburn in the fourth and seven runs in the last two frames. After Lisenby walked to start the fifth, Smith entered as a pinch-runner and came around to score on a passed ball to give Auburn a seven-run lead. 

Ole Miss answered with another sole run in the sixth,  but Penta stayed on for the seventh and sealed her seventh complete game this season with back-to-back strikeouts to slam the door on Auburn's fifth straight win.

Auburn marches into game two of the three-game set with Ole Miss with four consecutive conference wins. It will look to extend that run to five starting at 3 p.m. CST tomorrow on the SEC Network.

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