SportsAuburn Softball Knocks off Alabama, 6-2
MONTGOMERY, Alabama -- In a softball season that has seen the state of Alabama produce more than its fair share of top 25 teams, Auburn and Alabama's lack of an SEC series on the schedule gave the Tigers and Tide an opportunity to capitalize for one night only.
By playing a neutral-site game at Montgomery's Lagoon Park -- the site of the AHSAA state championships -- the two schools packed more than 3,000 paying customers into the stands to see a pair of top-25 teams.
And an upstart Auburn softball team came away with a big win. Frustrated by a seven-game losing streak leading up to the game, the No. 23 Tigers knocked off No. 6 Alabama in a momentum-changing 6-2 win, only the second victory in their past 21 games against the Crimson Tide, although two have come in four tries the past two years.
"I thought it was awesome," first-year Auburn coach Clint Myers said. "That's what softball and women's sports should be like every night, for every place. They saw a good ballgame, and I think everybody here had fun. It's just a matter of getting the exposure out there."
Up until this season, Auburn (32-12-1) has struggled to maintain a high-enough profile to compete with Alabama's perennial contender for attention, and the Tigers didn't draw as many fans to Lagoon Park on Wednesday.
On the other hand, Auburn proved its ability to close the gap. In a game that featured each team using its No. 2 starters -- Alabama star Jaclyn Traina and Auburn aceLexi Davis were saved for SEC series that begin on Friday in favor of Leslie Jury andMarcy Harper, respectively -- the Tigers' resurgent lineup was the one that produced the big hits.
After Emily Carosone laced a single to start the bottom of the first, Auburn freshmanKasey Cooper lofted an opposite-field homer over the left-field fence to give the Tigers an early 2-0 lead.
"It was the pitch we were looking for," Cooper said. "It's just our approach at the plate, we work on it extremely hard every day. I was sitting on the outside, and I got it."
Two innings later, Morgan Estell took another Leslie Jury pitch to the opposite field for a three-run blast that gave Auburn a 5-0 lead and the kind of cushion the Tigers haven't had in a seven-game skid that featured series sweeps at the hands of Florida and Missouri.
"With the run of luck we've had in the past, getting out to that early lead was huge," Myers said. "It gave Marcy a little cushion to go out there, and she just pitched phenomenal."
The neutral site played a role in Auburn's early outburst. With a makeshift fence circling the field, Alabama left fielder Kallie Case struggled, running into and falling through the fence on both of Auburn's big blasts as she tried to make the catch.
"Both of those home runs could have been caught, because they barely went over, and in our park they probably would have hit the fence," Murphy said.
But Murphy also pointed out that his offense, which could only string together four hits and two walks against Harper. Other than a homer by Jadyn Spencer and an RBI single by Molly Fichtner, Alabama never put anything together offensively.
"This is a big conquering for me," Harper said. "A very big conquering. I threw strikes, I didn't walk hardly anybody."
Harper, who moved to 15-2 with the win, has done a solid job in the No. 2 role, but she struggled against Missouri over the weekend, knocked out of the game after 1 2/3 innings and control issues on Saturday.
She kept herself calm against the Crimson Tide. Working quickly, Harper struck out the first two hitters and sailed from there, although she had the help of a trio of nice plays from Kelsey Bogaards at shortstop and an outfield assist from Tiffany Howard that cut down Fichtner trying to stretch a single into a double and ended an inning.
"Deep breaths," Harper said. "Believe me, I'm not kidding. Just deep breaths, and just focusing. That's all I needed to do."
In the meantime, the more than 3,000 fans in the stadium got to see what most of the SEC already knew.
Both Auburn and Alabama are tough outs this season, and the sport is awfully competitive in this state at the moment, with good programs at both South Alabama and UAB, too.
"I think any time you can say we had an atmosphere, it was an event, it's great for female athletics," Murphy said. "And it's a win-win for softball in the state, regardless of who wins the game."