OKLAHOMA CITY -- The term "instant classic" is often overused. It's far and between when a game actually lives up to the hype.
For the 9,515 fans who were at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium on Saturday night, they won't have to search very far. Auburn and UCLA played a four-hour, 13-minute marathon that featured 10 dramatic innings, 28 hits, 21 runs and one crucial game-winning walk as the Tigers won 11-10 to hold off elimination.
“It was a very intense game,” Auburn's Brandi Melero said. “For some reason, we like to play these type of games. But just going into it, maybe [Sunday] we can score our runs and then play seven innings and then that be it and then move on to the next.”
With the victory, Auburn advances to take on top-seed Florida on Sunday in a third consecutive win-or-go-home game. But as the Tigers demonstrated against the Bruins, they are a team that's not afraid of such moments.“To me, it's just another day at the office,” Auburn's Carlee Wallace said. “I mean, I know that the emotions may run high, but we have a great coaching staff that has taught us how to control our emotions, control the situation, stay in the moment. So for me, I just think we take it one pitch at a time, one inning at a time, and I think it doesn't affect us at all. I think we're very well trained in that aspect.”
The Tigers came to bat in the bottom of the 10th with the score knotted at 10. The inning started with UCLA's Ally Carda walking Emily Carosone. Kasey Cooper and Melero each singled to load the bases with no outs.
That brought Morgan Estell to the plate. The senior was hitless on the night, but still confident she could get the job done.
Yet, instead of forcing the issue and trying to be a hero, she let Carda do the work. On a night when the Bruins ace would throw 205 pitches, her last one was ball four and walked in the game-winning run.
“I don't think when I got up there, it wasn't the situation I was worried about,” Estell said. “All I was worried about was getting a good pitch and drive the ball down, hit a ground ball. Never got a pitch to do that. So, I mean, it was hard to be patient because like you said, you want to get up there and hit but the walk is as good as a hit at that point.”
For Carda, seeing her career end with a walk made her angry.
“It's tough,” Carda said. “Not only is the season lost, but I was more mad that I didn't do it for everyone else. So I was mad at myself for not being able to come up with better pitches. Walking people is not the way to do it in those kind of innings. So more so just mad at myself I didn't get it done for my team.”
Carda (32-8) took the loss as she pitched eight of the game's 10 innings. She allowed 10 earned runs, walked 12 batters and struck out seven.
Marcy Harper picked up the win for the Tigers in relief. She pitched four innings and allowed five runs on 10 hits.
But numbers only tell a small portion of what took place between the Tigers and Bruins.
In the third inning, the Bruins scored five runs and looked like they were on their way to run-ruling the Tigers. But Auburn responded with six runs in the bottom of the inning.
At that point most fans watching knew they were in store for something special. So did the coaches and players.
“I haven't been in a game like that before, I don't think, at least with that big of a crowd and that intense of moments,” Carda said. “So we did lose, but it was fun. It was a great experience for the younger ones. So next year they can get back after it.”
The most exciting inning may have been the seventh. With the Bruins trailing 9-8, freshman Maddy Jelenicki smashed a 2-run homer to set herself up to be the hero.
But the Tigers showed they do not know how to fold under pressure. Even though it's the program's first trip to the WCWS, they have mastered the art of being clutch.
Haley Fagan singled to start the inning. Carlee Wallace then doubled to drive Fagan home and send the contest into extra innings and into the instant-classic neighborhood.
“I think this is the most dramatic [game] I've ever been in, just because of we're at the Women's College World Series," Estell said. “There's games that we were down by five against Alabama and down by five against ULL with two outs and came back and tied it. So it's up there with those. But for me, by far, the most emotionally and physically draining.”