OKLAHOMA CITY -- In 2013, Auburn treated college football fans to one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory. With its down-to-the-wire wins against Georgia and Texas A&M, a dramatic Iron Bowl victory against rival Alabama and a suspenseful loss in the national title game, the Tigers were hailed as the cardiac kids.
The 2015 Auburn softball team followed the same formula during the Women's College World Series. It provided fans at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium with the most dramatic moments of the tournaments only to reach the brink of a title before being eliminated Sunday.
“This team wants to fight for sure,” freshman Carlee Wallace said. “Doesn't matter -- we tend to do better when our back's against the wall. It would be better for Coach [Clint Myers] and his health if we didn't do that, but that's just the way the team is wired. When there's a call, we answer. And I think that's the best part about this team.”While the Tigers were disappointed to have not won the national championship, what they accomplished this year, especially in the postseason, shows they are building the program to be more than a flash in the pan or one-hit wonder. They plan to be around for years to come.
“I'd like to say how very proud I am to be the coach at Auburn University,” Myers said. “These kids were picked to finish eighth in our conference. And yet they were one of four remaining teams in the College World Series. That says a lot about character. It says a lot about drive, competitiveness. It was a lot of fun. And we will be back.”
Myers took over the program in 2014, a year after the team went 30-23 and didn't make the postseason. Yet that didn't stop him from making what seemed like a bold prediction of taking the team to its first trip to the WCWS.
“I mean, the moment he said that, I believed in him,” senior Brandi Melero said. “And I'm beyond blessed that he allowed me to stay on this field and to keep me on the team, to have this opportunity. I mean, he said he was going to bring us to the Women's College World Series, and he did. So I couldn't be more happier, and I thank him very much for all that he's done.”
In the program's first trip, the Tigers played in back to back games that had more than 9,500 fans on the edge of their seats. After beating UCLA 11-10 in 10 innings Saturday, they came back with a nine inning affair in which it fell 3-2 to defending champion Florida. Both games ended on a drama-filled final at-bat.
“This game kind of had remnants of [Saturday night], which we had a ton of fun playing in,” Lexi Davis said. “It showed a lot of our character and everybody was saying we didn't have experience coming into this, but I think we did a pretty darned good job for never being here. So [Saturday night] was a heck of a lot of fun and [Sunday] we just ran out of at-bats.”
But even after playing 26 innings of high level softball in a 24 hour period, the Tigers were defiant to the end on whether they felt fatigue or not. It was just another sign of the type of fight this program has been built upon.
“I think just our will to win is too strong to even let fatigue kind of come into play,” Wallace said. “Our will to just play the game is, it's like Coach said, we're so competitive that we don't realize how tired we are until the game's over. And then once we kind of sit around and you try to get up you're like, okay, that's where that bruise came from. But I think definitely that we're a very competitive bunch, and it doesn't really come into play until after.”
Along with Melero, the Tigers will lose a total of three seniors from a squad that went 56-11, won the SEC Tournament and made it to the semifinals of the World Series. But she sees what they accomplished this season as only the start of something great.
“A season of firsts for us,” Davis said. “We came in with nobody really expecting us to do anything, and I think that kind of propelled us to want to prove people wrong and we knew, with the coaching and the talent we had, we knew within ourselves that we could do it. And I think that's what we went out and did. So we did a lot of things that no one thought we could. That's a testament to how hard we worked, how great of coaches we have. And it's one that we'll never forget.”