— Auburn’s late-inning magic ran out one batter too soon.
The Tigers saw their seventh-inning rally fall one run short Monday night in a 3-2 loss to Oklahoma in Game 1 of the Women’s College World Series championship series.
Auburn (57-11) must win its final two games to win its first WCWS title. Oklahoma (56-7) extends its nation-best winning streak to 31 games and moves one game away from the championship. Game 2 is at 7 p.m. tonight on ESPN.
“We’ve been against the wall plenty of times,” said Auburn second baseman Emily Carosone. “We know how to handle it... the season’s not over yet.”
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Trailing 3-0 in the top of the seventh, Auburn cut into the lead when Jade Rhodes followed up a leadoff walk from Carlee Wallace with a two-run home run over the wall in center.
The Tigers then put runners on second and third with one out later in the inning for pinch-hitter Courtney Shea. The sophomore smashed a hard-hit ball to first, but Oklahoma’s Shay Knighten kept it in front of her before regathering to throw out pinch-runner Casey McCrackin at the plate for the second out.
Tiffany Howard popped out to third the next at bat to end the game.
“I was doing whatever it took for my team,” Knighten said of the play at first. “I don’t know why, but I had a feeling that the ball was going to go to the right side, and I knew how they swing that it was going to be hit hard.”
Before the game, Auburn pitching coach Corey Myers surprised many by naming Lexi Davis as his starting pitcher. Davis, a senior, had started nine games all season, making her previous start on May 7 in a 13-6 loss to Texas A&M where she lasted just one inning.
Monday, Davis (6-1) was solid, giving up three earned runs on seven hits and two walks over six innings.
However, one mistake was all it took.
Davis left a hanging change-up over the plate to Sydney Romero in the bottom of the third inning, and the Sooner third base man made her pay. With two outs, Romero drilled the second pitch she saw from Davis over the wall in left center for a three-run home run.
“I made one bad pitch that she took advantage of,” Davis said. “We unfortunately had two on base.”
Oklahoma starter Paige Parker (37-3) was stellar in the circle, giving up two earned runs on four hits and three walks in a complete game win. Parker has pitched every pitch -- 462 of them -- for the Sooners this WCWS. She added another 91 Monday night, including 23 in the hectic seventh.
“I have a pretty good routine with our trainer,” Parker said. “... It’s just doing whatever I have to do to feel fresh the next day.”
After the game, Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso would not say if Parker will start Game 2.
This isn’t the first time the Tigers have had their backs against the wall this season. Auburn previously faced elimination in the super regionals, losing its first game against Arizona before winning back-to-back games to advance to the WCWS.
“This is a good ball club,” said Auburn coach Clint Myers of his team. “You are going to see us come out fighting tomorrow. Nobody is hanging their heads, we are excited to be here.”