CLEMSON — The Clemson softball team is headed to the Super Regional Round of the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year.
The Tigers did it this time by knocking off Auburn 5-1 in the championship game of the Clemson Regional Sunday at McWhorter Stadium.
Led by pitcher Valerie Cagle, the Tigers avenged their loss to Auburn from earlier in the day. The SEC Tigers defeated Clemson 5-2 in Game 6 of the Clemson Regional to force the winner-take-all finale.
“I am just really proud of our team today,” Clemson head coach John Rittman said. “It is a great feeling to be Regional Champs again and go back-to-back, especially in front of our home crowd here. We obviously did it a little different this year in losing the first game and had to come back in Game 2.
“The message to the team all year long is that someone is going to have to beat us twice to end our season and we were not going to let that happen today.”
Playing with the season on the line, Clemson got an outstanding performance from Cagle, who lived up to her National Player of the Year hype in Game 7. The junior allowed just one run on four hits as she kept Auburn’s batters off balance for much of the afternoon.
The ACC Player of the Year was also 1-for-1 at the plate, drew three walks, scored a run and brought in one run. Clemson also got RBIs from Caroline Jacobsen, Maddie Moore and Reedy Davenport.
“There are so many great players in this country, and certainly we are bias. We think Valerie is definitely the player of the year in our minds and she is very deserving,” Rittman said. “When you can change the game offensively, pitching and what a great fielder she is and she showed that this weekend and she has shown that throughout her career.
“There are three great athletes up for it and certainly, we hope Valerie wins. She is very deserving of that honor.”
After Cagle scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the first inning, Davenport scored Aby Vieira with a two-out single to right field in the second inning. Cagle later drew a walk with the bases load to extend the lead to 3-0 after two.
In the fourth inning, the Tigers (49-10) got RBI hits down the leftfield line from Jacobsen and Moore to extend their lead to 5-1.
Auburn (43-19) got its loan run in the top of third inning when Makayla Packer doubled to rightfield and later scored on a fielder’s choice.
Pitcher Maddie Penta suffered the loss for Auburn, though her effort was worth noting. After throwing 139 pitches in a complete game to force the decisive game with Clemson, the righty started Game 7 and went another inning and two thirds while adding 47 more pitches to her count.
Stat of the Game: Clemson was 5-for-21 with runners in scoring position, while Auburn was 0-for-4.
Player of the Game: Cagle was once again magnificent when it mattered the most. The junior was 1-for-1 at the plate with three walks and an RBI. She also improved to 25-6 in the circle as she kept Auburn hitters off balance all afternoon.
Key Moment: With Clemson holding on to a 3-1 lead in the fourth inning, Jacobsen singled down the third baseline to score McKenzie Clark. Two batters later Moore safely hit to the same spot to plate pinch runner Julia Bomhardt, who ran for Cagle.
Up Next: Clemson advances to the Super Regional Round of the NCAA Tournament where it will play No. 1 overall seed Oklahoma next week in Norman, Okla.
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