Wild Walk-off Win Keeps Season Alive For Surprising Auburn Tigers

ByGRAHAM HAYS via <a href="http://espn.go.com/" title="ESPN" class="espn_sc_byline">ESPN </a>
July 20, 2016, 3:40 AM

&#151; -- OKLAHOMA CITY -- On a day when Auburn's season was extended in no small part through the efforts of Carlee Wallace, a 5-foot-2 Californian known in a garbled twist on the orange-hued characters from children's literature as "Choompa Loompa," the only outsider in a Women's College World Series of blue bloods claimed its version of a golden ticket.

Auburn survived to play at least one more day in this World Series.

It may also have taken a step toward reaching Monday, if not as what history and basic human fatigue suggests is a long shot this year, then as a favorite on Mondays to come.

As for Saturday, Auburn woke up without a World Series win to its name. Ever. The Tigers went to sleep Saturday night, or more likely Sunday morning, with not only their first two wins but a place in World Series lore after one of the wildest elimination games on record.

When the last of 431 pitches in the game missed the strike zone and sent Morgan Estell to first base with a bases-loaded walk that scored Emily Carosone, No. 4 Auburn walked off with an 11-10 win against No. 7 UCLA.

That came hours after it defeated No. 7 Tennessee 4-2 in the daylight.

"We've been here since nine o'clock this morning, and that's 13 hours," Auburn coach Clint Myers said when it was over. "I don't know about [the players], but I'm damn tired."

Don't mistake a classic game with a classic performance. With its season on the line against UCLA, Auburn did a lot of things that looked like the work of a newcomer.

Normally one of the most sure-handed and smoothest defensive teams in the country, especially around the infield, there were three errors and additional close calls.

After Auburn answered UCLA's five runs in the top of the third with six in the bottom of the inning to open the scoring, the Tigers squandered away that lead as quickly as it came with an error, a walk, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly, giving UCLA a run in the fourth inning.

Baserunning errors cost Auburn, too. A leadoff walk in the sixth could have been the start of a big inning, but Carosone was caught attempting to take second base on a return throw from the catcher to the pitcher. In a game in which the sheer volume of runs diminished the value of any individual runner, it was a foolish gamble.

But every time Auburn looked like the stage might be too big, or at least enough times, the Tigers answered. After the run given away by poor defense tied the game in the top of the fourth inning, Brandi Melero's three-run home run in the bottom of the inning restored the lead.

After UCLA's Maddy Jelenicki hit a two-out, two-run homer to give UCLA a 10-9 lead in the top of the seventh, Wallace doubled in Haley Fagan in the bottom of the frame to tie it.

"Our strength has been our defense," Myers said. "Our pitching has really pitched well. We were a little shaky out there, and one of the things that we really pride ourselves on is our baserunning. But when it came down to it, this team figured out a way to win. Like [assistant coach Corey Myers] says all the time, you just have to be one run better.

"Tonight wasn't pretty, but it's still a win, and we're coming back to play tomorrow."

Even at the end, Estell would have needed to be the most undisciplined hitter in the world not to walk against Ally Carda, who was heroic in the sense of a Greek tragedy in throwing 215 pitches but appearing to endure the final few innings with nothing left. But Auburn waited and waited all game. It is, along with the Florida team it will play Sunday, among the best in the country at the simple-but-rarely-practiced act of swinging at strikes.

So the Tigers walked 13 times, part of a record-setting night of free passes.

"You can't get up there and swing for the fence with nobody on base; that's not going to help us," Estell said. "So it just takes walks, hit by pitch, bunt, hit, anything."

How quickly Auburn has processed that in two seasons with Myers, including on the part of many players like Estell who were already on the roster when Myers arrived, is why Auburn's future is bright, no matter how difficult Sunday will be.

In its first WCWS appearance with Myers at the helm, Arizona State lost its first two games and was done before dusk fell Saturday. And that was with one of the best pitchers in the country.

"I think the maturity level is happening at an accelerated rate," Myers said. "The first game, the second game, we really said we didn't have some experience. But you look at the quality of games that we've played today alone, I think that they're ready. You know, tomorrow is another day, and we're going to be playing another quality team. But there's nothing about this team that surprises me anymore because they're here to win."

The World Series is due some Sunday night winner-take-all drama. While no team out of the loser's bracket forced a decisive game in any of the past three seasons, it happened in each of the first seven seasons under the tournament's current format. The last team to reach the championship series through the loser's bracket was Florida in 2011, but more germane to Auburn's situation, Arizona in 2010 was the last to do so after an opening loss.

The Tigers won't beat the Gators (the two teams didn't play in the regular season) even once, let alone twice, with some of the sloppiness on display Saturday night. But they earned a chance to play a perfect game by winning an imperfect one.

That is part of Oklahoma City.

"We tend to do better when our back's against the wall," Wallace said. "I know it would be better for Coach and his health if we didn't do that, but that's just the way this team is wired. When there is a call, we answer, and I think that is the best part about this team."

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