Freshman Carlee Wallace’s RBI single in the bottom of the ninth completed a dramatic comeback and gave Auburn a 6-5 victory over No. 5 seed Tennessee to earn the Southeastern Conference softball tournament championship Saturday night at Tiger Park.
The second-seeded Tigers (49-9), playing in their first SEC tournament title game, earned the conference’s automatic bid and will almost certainly be named a national seed when the NCAA tournament field is announced Sunday night. The Volunteers fell to 42-14.
Tournament Most Valuable Player Emily Carosone, who started a two-run rally with a leadoff single in the seventh, led off the bottom of the ninth with a single against Rainey Gaffin (14-3), who started, was replaced in the second inning and returned to start the eighth.
A one-out groundout moved Carosone to second, and Wallace’s line drive that skidded all the way to the left-field corner easily sent home Carosone, who was 4-for-5 with an RBI and two runs.
“As soon as I hit it, I thought, ‘Oh my God, that has a chance to get through,’ ” Wallace said. “When it got through it was surreal. I thought, ‘Did we really just do this?’ ”
Auburn took a 3-0 lead after two innings, but Erin Gabriel came out of the Tennessee bullpen to stymie the Tigers bats while her teammates made a comeback. The Volunteers scored one run in the fourth and three in the fifth to take the lead.
Meghan Gregg’s two-out solo homer off reliever Rachael Walters (17-3), who pitched the final 3.2 innings, gave Gabriel insurance in the top of the seventh.
After Carosone’s leadoff single in the bottom half, Kasey Cooper doubled her to third. Branndi Melero’s grounder cut the lead to 5-4 and sent Cooper to third.
Wallace hit a fly ball to left, and left fielder C.J. McClain dropped the ball for an error that enabled Cooper to score the tying run.
“That’s just softball,” Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “(McClain) is our fastest outfielder, and she’s got our strongest arm. She just took her eye off the ball to look at the runner.”
Lexi Davis held the Volunteers scoreless before giving up an RBI single to Taylor Koenig that cut the Tigers’ lead to 3-1 in the fourth.
In the fifth, Davis hit Megan Geer with a pitch with the bases loaded, and two runs scored when Gregg hit into a fielder’s choice at second and shortstop Haley Fagan threw the ball away trying for a double play.
Auburn scratched out a run in the first as Howard walked, advanced on two wild pitches by Gaffin and scored on Cooper’s groundout.
The Tigers chased Gaffin as they increased the lead to 3-0 in the second. Gabriel relieved Gaffin after she issued a bases-loaded walk to No. 9 hitter Jenna Abbott. One out later, Carosone beat out an infield single for an RBI.