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From the other dugout: Auburn outslugs Colorado State to kick off Tucson Regional; Harvard shows grit

Photo by Ryan Kelapire

The Arizona softball team beat Harvard 5-1 on Friday to begin the Tucson Regional. Our recap from the Wildcats’ perspective can be found here.

Here is a look at what else transpired at Hillenbrand Stadium.

Auburn emerges victorious, 10-5

For the first three innings, it didn’t look like either team was going to be able to grab control. The momentum swung back and forth, Colorado State tried to stay ahead and Auburn tried to catch them.

Colorado State came out hot with two homers in the first inning, quickly building a 3-0 lead. The Rams were done in by their own miscues in the second, allowing Auburn to tie it up on a two-run homer and an unearned run.

Auburn returned the favor in the top of the second, allowing two unearned runs. But the Tigers fought back. A hit batter, a single, a fielder’s choice and yet another error allowed Auburn to tie the game again, this time at 5-5.

That would be it for the Rams, as the Tigers took control in the fourth. Alyssa Rivera’s single was followed by Tannon Snow’s homer, putting Auburn ahead for good. They would add two more runs later in the inning to go up 9-4. One tacked on in the sixth accounted for the final score of 10-5.

The Tigers ended with 10 runs on 14 hits. Rivera, Snow and Makenna Dowell each had two RBI. Rivera was 4-for-4 with a home run, and Snow also went yard.

Chardonnay Harris gave up three earned runs on four hits with four strikeouts and a walk in 3.2 innings. Ashlee Swindle didn’t allow any runs in 3.1 innings and was credited with the win. She gave up three hits and two walks while striking out three. As a team, the Tigers had two errors resulting in two unearned runs.

The Rams scored their five runs on seven hits. Ashley Ruiz went 3-for-4 with a home run. Haley Donaldson joined Ruiz with a long ball.

Jessica Jarecki took the loss after giving up five earned runs on nine hits. She had no walks and no strikeouts in three innings. Bridgette Hutton gave up two earned runs on five hits. She also walked one in three innings. The defense threw in three errors, leading to three unearned runs.

Injuries piling up for Auburn

The Tigers came into the game already down one pitcher. They lost Makayla Martin, their ace, back in March. Swindle had taken over that role since Martin was knocked out during their first SEC series. They also struggled with an injury to their second-best hitter in the SEC Tournament. The Tucson Regional brought yet more bad luck.

In the top of the fifth, with her team leading 9-5, Swindle was hit in the face by a line drive off the bat of Ruiz. As Swindle lay on the ground, her coaches gathered around. CSU returned to their dugout and said a prayer for their injured opponent. The medical staff and a cart were rushed out to the circle, and Swindle was driven away as she covered her face.

“It’s hard to talk about it,” Auburn coach Mickey Dean said, obviously emotional.

After the post-game press conference, Dean was taken to the local hospital where Swindle was being evaluated and undergoing x-rays.

“Our thoughts are with Ashlee Swindle and her family,” CSU coach Jen Fisher said to open her team’s post game press conference. “And we certainly hate to see something like that happen, and we hope she makes a speedy recovery and she’s in good hands. We feel really strongly that the athletic trainers and everybody jumped on that, and we hope she’s going to be fine. So I wanted to get that out of the way first and let you guys know how much we’re thinking about her.”

The injury leaves Auburn with just two pitchers, Harris and Lexie Handley. Harris had pitched 94.2 innings coming into the postseason, earning a 2.74 ERA. Handley had thrown just 59.1, putting together a 3.30 ERA.

Long balls

The Tucson Regional was advertised as the regional of the homer. It lived up to that billing.

Both the Rams and the Tigers hit two round-trippers. For CSU, they came early, with Ruiz and Donaldson each hitting one out in the first inning. Auburn got one early from Rivera—one of her four hits—and a go-ahead two-run homer from Snow in the fourth.

Harvard wasn’t going to be left out. Their only run came on a homer run from Erin Lockhart in the second at-bat of the game. Not only was it the only run, but it was the only hit given up by Arizona’s Taylor McQuillin. It stood as the lone run in the game until the fourth inning.

After a season in which much of its offense came via the homer, Arizona was surprisingly the only team in the regional not to hit one over the wall on the first day of competition.

Using the staff

With the Rams seeing Harris well, Dean pulled her after an error and a hit allowed CSU to take the lead again in the top of the second. Swindle, who had pitched the most innings of any Tiger pitcher, came in for her. Swindle was able to shut the Rams down until her injury late in the game.

Harris was able to keep the momentum going, despite her earlier troubles. She closed out the final 1.2 innings without giving up another hit.

“You know, when things kind of go left, you just kind of kind of come in,” Harris said. “I knew I had a part to play so I just did that.”

While not quite under the same circumstances, Colorado State also made use of two pitchers. Jarecki got things started for the Rams, pitching three innings of nine-hit ball. After giving up the go-ahead home run to Snow, Jarecki was removed for Hutton, who gave up another five hits in her three innings.

Errors and miscues

Neither team played a clean defensive game. Whether it was the hardness of the field or the nature of the hits, the coaches and players felt that the little things just didn’t go their way. When all was said and done, Auburn was credited with two errors and CSU with three. They both had several other miscues that weren’t officially scored as errors.

In the top of the third, Auburn wasn’t charged with an error, but they struggled to make plays. With one out, Snow knocked the ball down, throwing it high to Justus Perry at first. It was ruled a single for Ruiz.

The next batter, Lauren Buchanan nearly reached on an error when Rivera dropped a fly ball in center-right. Rivera was able to recover enough to get the force out on Ruiz at second, but she made it far more complicated than it needed to be.

Dean said that the Tigers had tried to prepare for the hardness of the field in the desert, but they still had difficulty adjusting to it.

For the Rams, Fisher felt the defense was a big difference in the game.

“I think we could have played a little bit better defense and helped our pitchers get out of some situations,” Fisher said. “But overall we made some great plays, made some good pitches and we just got to tighten up the defense.”

“I think they were just quite a few balls it honestly kinda had eyes, and then I think kind of sapped some of our energy,” she added. “I think we felt like maybe we should have been getting to a couple of them, and then that for whatever reason that just kinda brought us down cause I think we were expecting to make all the great plays.”

Playing in Tucson is fun no matter how late it is

By the time the final game and press conferences were over, it was 11:57 p.m. MST. That’s just ticks short of 3 a.m. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Harvard contingent didn’t care.

“Staying awake for the game was one of my goals,” coach Jenny Allard joked. “Yes, it is (late), but there’s so much adrenaline. I mean, this place was just electric tonight. I really hand it to the fans here. I was saying earlier, we were scouting the earlier game (between Auburn and CSU) and people showed up to watch the softball games and U of A wasn’t on the field. And then to see them come out even more for U of A and have to be against us, it was just an electric environment. We didn’t care what time it was.”

The Crimson show their grit

On Thursday afternoon, the Harvard players talked about the need to show grit if they wanted to win. They lived up to that. Many thought they might get steamrolled by the likes of Arizona, but they came out and proved that it wouldn’t be so easy.

“We’ve needed grit in tough situations where we’ve had a lead in the seventh, the other team comes battling back,” Allard said. “We’ve needed to be tough. Tonight it was grit from the very beginning and grit in how we prepared, really. I mean, we really worked on three things to elevate our game to this level. We don’t see this level of pitching week in and week out. We don’t see this level of speed week in and week out. So we really had to elevate in four days to get ready to go to match Arizona speed and power.”

Who’s next?

The Tigers will take on Arizona at 3 p.m. MST on Saturday. Colorado State will face off against Harvard at 5:30 p.m. to try to avoid elimination. The loser of the Arizona-Auburn game will face the winner of the CSU-Harvard game at 8 p.m. MST.