Behind the contributions of all five seniors honored in pregame festivities on Sunday, South Carolina (35-19, 11-13 SEC) defeated No. 20/20 Auburn (38-16-1, 11-13 SEC) by a score of 4-2 in front of the season's best single-game crowd at Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field of 1,412 fans.
The win guarantees the Gamecocks the eight seed in the SEC Tournament, which they host starting Wed., May 7. South Carolina and Auburn will square off again in the 6:30 p.m. game, while the 4 p.m. game has seventh-seeded Kentucky facing No. 10 seed Mississippi State.
Senior shortstop Codee Yeske started the fifth with a single, and senior left fielder Brooke Barnhill tried to sacrifice her to second, but the throw skied over the Tiger covering the bag, letting both runners reach safely. After an infield fly, redshirt freshman Lauren Masters tallied a hit to right to load the bases.
Senior right fielder Chelsea Hawkins hit a high fly ball into foul territory down the left-field line that the Tigers caught, allowing Yeske to score the go-ahead run. Junior catcher Sarah Mooney hit a sharp grounder to the pitching circle for an infield hit, scoring Barnhill and giving the Gamecocks a 4-2 lead that they never relinquished.
Auburn took the initial lead in the second on Tiffany Howard's sacrifice fly, scoring McKenzie Kilpatrick after she walked in a 10-pitch at-bat to start the inning. A Gamecock error let her reach second, and Kelsey Bogaards' bunt put both her and Madi Gipson into scoring position. On Howard's sacrifice fly, Hawkins caught the liner in right center and threw to the cutoff, where junior first baseman Olivia Lawrence wisely caught it, pivoted and threw to third to gun down the runner trying to advance.
South Carolina tied the game in the second on Yeske's two-out RBI single, plating junior centerfielder Kristen Struett after she had a solid one-out hit to right. After a groundout, senior second baseman Dana Hathorn walked to put Struett into scoring position.
That 1-1 tie turned into a 2-1 South Carolina lead when senior designated player Ashlyn Masters sent the first pitch in the bottom of the third over the wall in left for her fifth homer of the year.
Another Gamecock error in the fifth let the Tigers tie the game at 2-2. Morgan Estell led off the inning with a single and moved to second on Austyn West's fielder's choice, but the throw to try to get her went wild, allowing Estell to score the game's tying run.
South Carolina redshirt junior Julie Sarratt (17-10) picked up the victory with five innings of work, scattering five hits and two walks while fanning three and giving up two unearned runs. Freshman Nickie Blue moved into second in the single-season listing in saves, tallying her seventh of the year with two innings of work, only giving up one hit and striking out two. Auburn's Lexi Davis (19-10) took the loss, allowing four runs, two earned, on six hits and four walks. She struck out two.
Yeske went 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI in the win, while Ashlyn Masters posted the only Gamecock extra-base hit with the homer. Hawkins drove in a run, while Barnhill scored one. Hathorn walked twice in the contest while posting four assists in the start at second base. Auburn's Morgan Estell went 2-for-4 with a run scored, while the Tigers' Emily Carosone and Kelsey Bogaards both had doubles.
South Carolina posts its best winning percentage in SEC play (.458) since 2003, when the team went 18-10 in conference outings.
The South Carolina-Auburn winner plays at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday against top-seeded Alabama, while the victor of the Kentucky-Mississippi State matchup takes on second-seeded Tennessee at 1:30 p.m. Third-seeded LSU faces the six seed Missouri to open Thursday's play at 11 a.m., and the Florida Gators and Georgia Bulldogs square off in the 4 p.m. game on Thursday in the battle of the fourth and fifth seeds. The first eight games of the SEC Tournament will be shown on ESPNU nationwide Wed.-Fri.