CLEMSON, S.C. - Firing on all cylinders offensively, No. 16 Auburn softball (41-17) made a statement in its first game of the Clemson Regional, knocking off Cal State Fullerton (33-20) in five innings with a 12-2 win Friday at McWhorter Stadium.
Scoring in every inning, Auburn took advantage of its free passes, drawing nine walks against the Titan pitching staff. The Tiger offense used eight hits, including a Bri Ellis grand slam, to plate its 12 runs.
The win was Auburn's 41st of the 2023 season, which ties for the most wins in a season under head coach Mickey Dean. The Tigers went 41-17 in his first season on the Plains in 2018. "We weren't looking forward," Dean said.
"We weren't looking backward. We were focused on today's game, and we stayed there the entire five innings. We didn't carry any bricks. If we made a mistake, we just moved forward. That's what it is all about. It's about your teammate having your back, trusting in your teammates, and believing in your teammates. That's when you can go out on the field and play free and easy."
Tying the program record for RBI in a NCAA Regional contest, Ellis drove in four runs off the grand slam in her one official at bat. Ellis reached base in all four of her plate appearances with a pair of walks and a hit by pitch. She scored two runs.
"I'm just taking it pitch by pitch," Ellis said. "It's so easy to get caught up in everything that is happening outside of our control. I'm just proud of us for coming out everyday and just being who we are. We're being the players we know we can be."
KK McCrary, Lindsey Garcia and Makayla Packer were crucial pieces to the Auburn's offensive explosion. Packer went 2-for-2 at the plate with a sacrifice fly, two runs scored and two RBI. Garcia also went 2-for-2 with a sacrifice fly, two RBI and one run scored. Driving in the first run of the game, McCrary closed Friday 2-for-3 with two RBI.
"We just stuck to our plan," McCrary said. "We talked about the changeup. We attacked that early in the count. I just approach the plate when I'm facing two outs like I have nothing to lose. We know we belong here. We're trying to take a few games."
Now one win shy of tying the program record for victories in a season, Maddie Penta improved to 26-5 with four dominating innings. Penta scattered three hits and walk in the start and allowed just one earned run. The right-hander struck out three. Shelby Lowe closed out the contest for the Tigers, giving up one walk and striking out one.
Despite two outs on the scoreboard, Auburn manufactured early offense to take a first-inning lead. Free passes put a pair on for McCrary, who drove a pitch back up the middle to plate the first run of the game. Garcia followed with a single flared to left field to bring in another two-out RBI.
After leading off the second with a triple, the Titans knocked a single down the left field line to cut the lead to 2-1, but the Tiger defense turned two after catching a runner in a pickle between second and third and used a fly out to center to preserve the lead.
Auburn responded in the home half as a bunt single and a pair of walks loaded the bases with one out for Ellis. The slugger didn't miss as she delivered a ball to left center for her first collegiate grand slam. The blast was the 13th home run of her sophomore campaign and the 33rd of her career. Ellis now stands tied for third with Haley Fagan (2015) for the most home runs by a Tiger sophomore.
A pair of infield errors plagued Auburn in the third as Cal State Fullerton plated an unearned run, but Penta limited the damage as her third strikeout of the game left two stranded in scoring position. Auburn perfected situational softball in the bottom of the inning as Garcia led off with a double before advancing to third on a wild pitch. Packer drove her home with a sacrifice fly to right to push Auburn's lead to 7-2.
The big inning came in the fourth as a pair of leadoff walks set up McCrary as she drove another single up the middle to plate a run. Garcia traded an out for a run as her ninth sacrifice fly of her career push the lead to 9-2. Garcia now stands tied for second in school history in career sacrifice flies.
Pinch runner Abbey Smith stole a pair of bases to work her way to third and bring her season total to 18, tying Alyssa Rivera (2019) for seventh most in a single season. Smith would score on Packer's infield single to short. Rose Roach pushed the lead to 11-2 as her groundout second plated a run. Nelia Peralta capped the scoring with an RBI single down the line in left.
Peralta also drew her 41st walk of the season in Friday's contest, which moves her into a three-way tie for ninth most in a single season.
Advancing into the winner's bracket, Auburn will face No. 10 Clemson on Saturday at 12 p.m. CT. Television assignments will be announced following the conclusions of Friday's first round of regional games.