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Auburn to rematch Arizona in Tucson Regional Championship; Harvard and Colorado State reflect on special seasons

Photo by Ryan Kelapire

After the Arizona Wildcats defeated the Auburn Tigers in the first game of Saturday’s Tucson Regional action, there was still one question that had to be answered: who is going to meet the home team in the Regional final?

It turns out Auburn will get a second chance at the Wildcats on Sunday at 4 p.m. PT, after Colorado State and Harvard were eliminated Saturday.

Here is how it happened.

Colorado State defeats Harvard, 6-0

The Rams and the Crimson engaged in a pitchers’ duel for five innings, with Katie Duncan and Bridgette Hutton going toe-to-toe for four. When the fourth frame wrapped up, each pitcher had given up just two hits.

The fifth showed signs that CSU was starting to get to Duncan, though. They didn’t get any hits or score any runs, but they did load the bases on three walks. In the sixth, they finally kicked the door in.

The penultimate inning was a nightmare for Harvard. With two out, Lauren Buchanan singled to center field. Corina Gamboa followed with a single of her own. Isabella Navaro drove Gamboa and pinch runner Jordan Acosta in to break the stalemate. The Rams led 2-0.

An error and a walk loaded the bases. Another error pushed a run across, stretching the lead to 3-0. Ashley Ruiz broke the game open with a base-clearing triple. In mere minutes, the game had gone from 0-0 to 6-0 in Colorado State’s favor.

The game was over, and so were the softball careers of the Harvard seniors.

Auburn finally finds some mercy with 8-0 defeat of CSU

Despite having to play one game, wait two hours, and then return to the field, the Tigers were ready for the Rams.

After a scoreless first, Auburn struck in the second inning to take a 4-0 lead. In the fifth, they threw up another four runs to put the Rams on the edge of elimination.

Colorado State threatened in the bottom of the fifth, getting a runner on third. They weren’t able to get the hit that would lengthen the game, though, bowing out in five innings.

Auburn’s Chardonnay Harris gave up three hits, striking out three in five innings.

Alyssa Rivera went yard for the second straight game. She also drew two walks. Aspyn Godwin led the team with two RBI. Seven different Tigers got hits; Justus Perry led with two hits on the night.

For the Rams, Jessica Jarecki took the loss, giving up seven runs (five of them earned) on six hits over four innings. Hutton relieved her in the fifth, but surrendered another run on two hits. Neither pitcher had a strike out. Jarecki walked one, and Hutton added another walk.

Lessons from Harvard

Despite going home 0-2, Harvard took lessons from their athletic experiences that were every bit as important as those they took from their educational experiences.

“Harvard Softball has taught us a lot of things, particularly at this regional,” said senior catcher Elizabeth Shively. “Good results don’t always mean wins. I’m so incredibly proud at how hard this team fought at this regional. And, like I said before, we showed grit, we showed heart, and that’s what we learned--how to keep doing that even though the results might not be what we wanted.”

Harvard coach Jenny Allard took her own lessons away from the experience of the season.

“One of the things that after 25 years of coaching—I’m in my 25th year,” Allard said. “So, you get a little reminiscent and you think, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of years.’ And then you think, ‘What have I learned?’ The question I get asked is why have I been at Harvard for 25 years. Everyday I get to get up and work hard for these women, and I’m challenged by what they bring me. This year they brought me a lot of challenges and a lot of joy. And in those challenges, we found joy together.”

Passing along life lessons

The lessons didn’t just come from the experience in Tucson, though. Allard played her college career at the University of Michigan where she was coached by the legendary Carol Hutchins. Some of the lessons she brings to her players came from “Hutch.”

“Hutch is an incredible mentor,” Allard said. “One of the things that I always felt about Hutch is that when you looked at her as your coach, she didn’t look through you and see you as a player. She really acknowledged your whole being as a person. You really felt that she cared about who your were and how you were, and she understood you. I think those are the things that I always wanted to have in this program. I always wanted my players to know that I really deeply cared about them.

“And I was going to push them, but my job wasn’t to make their lives easy. My job is to make their life better. But I wanted them to know at the end of the day that I really cared about what they were trying to accomplish. And my job in these four years that I work with them at Harvard is to set them up for the next step. You have a great four years together, but, you know what? Now you’re going to go on and you’re going to do even better than this.”

Rising to the occasion

Auburn was in a tough spot after losing Ashlee Swindle to a facial injury against Colorado State. They started the year with four pitchers, but lost both ace Makayla Martin and her replacement, Swindle. Now, they were down to Chardonnay Harris and Lexie Handley.

Handley stepped into the circle against Arizona after pitching only 59.1 innings this season. The redshirt sophomore held her own, allowing only two runs on six hits. Although Arizona was able to get runners on base several times in the early innings, they weren’t able to break through and score until the fourth inning, when they scored their only two runs.

“I think (Harris and Handley) have been very mature about it,” Auburn coach Mickey Dean said about how the two pitchers have dealt with the injuries to the rest of the pitching staff. “Sometimes that can be very difficult for an 18-to-22-year-old, and then you have a group of them together. It can be mentally pretty challenging. But they’ve grown a lot this year, they really have, because in my 20-some years of coaching I’ve never had this many injuries on a team.”

Harris came in for the second game to stave off elimination against Colorado State. It appeared that the Tigers might be in danger of losing yet a third pitcher when she fell to the ground in third inning. After examining her ankle and throwing a few practice pitches, however, she was able to continue.

“Your first question is ‘ankle, knee, hip—which is it?’” Dean said. “When I got out there, she said she landed on the side (of her foot). It was a little powdery there, so we just brushed it out. You never know, believe me, especially now. I don’t try to guess what’s going on out there with one of our kids.”

The first win in 21 years for #25Strong

Colorado State hadn’t been in the NCAA Tournament since 2003. They hadn’t won a game in the tournament since 1997. Their win over Harvard put an end to that.

“I think it just adds on to the season that we’ve had,” Hutton said. “We’ve really hit home on what we want to do and how we want to do it this year. And I think winning today and setting that record of since 1997 is a great accomplishment, and I couldn’t be more proud of our team for not only that, but this whole entire year.”