Eighth-ranked Auburn brought the nation’s highest-scoring softball team into Tiger Park, but it was their pitching that made the difference Friday night.
Marcy Harper (10-3) held sixth-ranked LSU to two hits as Auburn won the opener of a three-game series 2-1.
“Not many teams come in here and do that,” Auburn coach Clint Myers said. “That tells you how good a game she pitched. She hit her spots, she went up and down, she went in and out, she changed speeds, she had a great defense behind her.”
Harper and Rachael Walters, who faced two batters in the sixth, outdueled Carley Hoover (13-4), who limited Auburn to three hits.
“Two very good teams were playing,” Myers said. “You had two very good pitchers in the circle and we happened to win tonight.”
Auburn (45-8, 17-5 Southeastern Conference) and LSU (43-9, 14-8) meet at 6 p.m. Saturday.
“We did hit a lot of balls hard today. They just didn’t find the holes,” LSU cleanup hitter Sahvanna Jaquish said. “Those days happen, but great teams find a way to win and we have to find that mentality of finding a way to win.
“(Harper) threw a great game. She hit corners and moved the ball very well against us.”
Harper held LSU to one hit before running into trouble in the sixth. She walked Bianka Bell leading off and one out later she hit Kellsi Kloss. Walters relieved and got Sandra Simmons to pop out before walking Kailey McCasland.
Harper re-entered and got pinch hitter Constance Quinn to ground into a forceout.
“I was actually kind of surprised when I went back in,” Harper said. “I was only in the dugout for two batters so it wasn’t a big deal.”
Harper and her teammates made several stellar defensive plays. Harper reached behind her back to snare Kloss’ line drive leading off the fourth. Third baseman Kasey Cooper grabbed a sharp liner from Bailey Landry and turned it into an inning-ending double play in the fifth.
Center fielder Morgan Estell made a diving catch of Jaquish’s sinking liner for the first out with Bell on first in the sixth. Shortstop Haley Fagan had seven assists, including three straight in the third, the only inning in which LSU didn’t have a base runner.
“They were phenomenal,” Harper said of her defense.
“They played great defense and their shortstop had a great game,” LSU coach Beth Torina said, “and of course you have to give credit to their pitcher for pitching a great game. “
Hoover had control problems early and Auburn took advantage. With one out in the first Emily Carosone singled and Cooper and Branndi Melero walked. Estell hit a grounder to short and Bell’s throw home was late, giving Auburn a 1-0 lead.
After Jaquish’s school-record eighth sacrifice fly of the season tied the score in the bottom half, Cooper walked leading off the third. A groundout and two wild pitches sent her home with the tiebreaking run.
“At the first part of the game I wasn’t really in touch with everything, but I tried to come back every inning and get better,” Hoover said. “My defense did really well behind me. They were taking some really hard cuts, so it was good to have defense tonight.”
Hoover retired 15 of the final 18 batters.
“She was amazing,” Jaquish said. “Giving up a three-hit game to an SEC team who has one of the best offenses in the country is a great job.”
LSU dropped a game behind Alabama into fourth place in the SEC, but maintained a one-game lead on fifth-place Missouri, which lost to Florida 7-6. The top four teams get byes in next week’s SEC tournament, which LSU will host.
“I just think that we didn’t get any breaks,” Torina said. “We hit some balls hard and we happened to hit it right at them and it seemed like nothing really went our way. And you know that in a 56-game season that might happen.”
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.