From a deep hole to a walk-off grand slam, Auburn wins Game 2 the hard way

Auburn outfielder makes amazing over-the-wall catch (0:30)

Auburn left fielder Tiffany Howard robs what was sure to be Shay Knighten's go-ahead home run with an incredible over-the-wall catch. (0:30)

OKLAHOMA CITY -- There is always an easy way and a hard way.

But really, what is the fun in easy?

Down a game in the best-of-three championship round of the Women's College World Series and down seven runs as it batted in the bottom of the second inning against a team with a 31-game winning streak, the only easy way available to Auburn involved nearby Will Rogers International Airport.

The easy way was a white flag and a flight home Wednesday.

The thing is, judging by its section of fans, Auburn brought only orange flags to Oklahoma City.

And after Emily Carosone's walk-off grand slam completed the biggest comeback in the history of the championship round -- with runs to spare -- in an 11-7 win against Oklahoma, orange flags still will be waving when the first pitch is thrown in Game 3 at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium on Wednesday.

A day after Carosone said a loss in the first game was just a warm-up act, Auburn set up a grand finale.

"You can't count us out," Auburn coach Clint Myers said. "We have a very, very good offense. They're going to swing the bats. If you've noticed, they like to do it late and make everything very exciting."

The win came late, just the 10th championship round to go extra innings, but it was the early hole that was the problem. And make no mistake, what Auburn faced in the second inning was a hole the same way the Mariana Trench is a ditch at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

Since the Women's College World Series adopted a best-of-three championship format in 2005, four teams lost Game 1 but then won Game 2 to force a winner-take-all finale (Arizona and Alabama subsequently completed their comebacks in 2007 and 2012, respectively, while UCLA and Michigan fell in the finales in 2005 and 2015). That was Auburn's task this night.

But the largest deficit any of the aforementioned teams faced in Game 2 was one run. Three won by shutout.

To reiterate, Auburn trailed by seven runs. Against a team that hadn't lost since April 2. In front of a crowd of 8,409 that was decidedly in favor of the school from 30 miles down the highway.

The easy way isn't falling behind by that many runs against that backdrop. The easy way is catching fly balls before they pass beyond the outfield wall, not bringing them back from the abyss as Auburn's Tiffany Howard did in the sixth inning to rob a home run with the game tied. The easy way would have been winning the game with a sacrifice fly, not a laser into the bleachers reminiscent of the walk-off home run UCLA's Megan Langenfeld hit en route to a title in 2010, the last time we saw such a slugfest at this stage.

But why would Auburn break character now? Their way is routinely the hard way.

There was the seven-run deficit Auburn erased against Indiana in March.

There was the walk-off sacrifice fly from Carlee Wallace that was required merely to win the opening game of an NCAA tournament regional against Jacksonville State.

There were two wins in a single afternoon after Arizona won the opening game of the super regional.

There was the seventh-inning comeback against Georgia in the second game here in Oklahoma City. Down two runs against the tournament's giant killers, the Tigers claimed the lead only after one of the oddest plays in recent World Series history, an RBI groundout in which the hero who drove in the run, Jade Rhodes, nearly found infamy by forgetting the number of outs.

But what Auburn taketh it also giveth away. The seventh-inning comeback became a seventh-inning giveaway one game later, a three-run lead against Florida State erased on one swing. The hard way was to win that game for a second time in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Time and again, Auburn makes life hard on itself. And then makes it harder on the opposition.

So for all that followed, and there was plenty, the story Tuesday was the second inning. Auburn and Oklahoma combined for more runs in that one inning, 11, than were scored in the entirety of any of the first 15 NCAA championship games. No one was more central to that than Auburn shortstop Whitney Jordan.

No one on this night more completely embodied the hard way.

A moment of indecision on one ground ball and an errant throw over the first baseman on another made Jordan an unwitting accomplice as the Sooners piled up six runs in the top of the inning. In those moments, the sun not even set, it felt as if the night would be a coronation.

But with two strikes and two outs in the bottom of the inning, Jordan pulled a ball that arced high down the left-field line and over the fence for a three-run home run that cut the deficit to 7-3.

Two more runs followed, courtesy of Victoria Draper, Howard and Kasey Cooper. Even though Auburn still lost the inning, it saved the game from slipping out of reach.

Cooper, the espnW player of the year, hit the home run in the fourth inning that tied the game. Carosone, an All-American who loves when people pitch around Cooper to get to her, hit the walk-off in the eighth. And Howard, another senior with national accolades, made the catch of a lifetime to deny Shay Knighten in the sixth inning.

All of it only after Jordan got the comeback started.

"I'm just so happy I got to contribute and help my team," Jordan said of her interesting inning. "Because I hurt them ... but ended up helping them. So that was a good feeling."

It wasn't just this night. Jordan entered the game with a .225 batting average, lowest of any starter in either lineup. She wasn't supposed to start 64 games at shortstop for the Tigers, a number Myers took pains to say will grow to 65 on Wednesday night. The plan was for her to compete for time in the outfield. Then one shortstop, Kelsey Bogaards, suffered a season-ending injury. Then another shortstop, Haley Fagan, was lost for most of the season.

"We lost one, then we lose two and 'Hey, Whit, you're back in at short.' " Myers said. "And she jumped in there. She's worked extremely hard. She's a very good competitor. She works on her skills, and I'm very proud of her play this entire season because of the type of person that she is. She competes. She does the best she can every single day."

Auburn didn't ask her to be an All-American. It asked her to fill a role. It asked her to keep her head up even if she wasn't spraying line drives across the SEC like some of her teammates.

If a team is going to do things the hard way, it can't afford weak links, no matter what the numbers say of a player's production. On this night, with a double also part of her work, she had twice as many extra-base hits as the team that had the seven-run lead.

So it was left to Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso to address whether she erred in asking her team to win the hard way, without Paige Parker, the sophomore ace who pitched every inning in the NCAA tournament until Kelsey Stevens and Jayden Chestnut split those duties Tuesday.

It seems unfair to second-guess Gasso. Five of the past seven national champions started a different pitcher in Game 2 than in Game 1. The days of Taryne Mowatt throwing a thousand pitches and all but living in the circle in Oklahoma City are fading quickly into history. Counting the two innings she threw before rain brought proceedings to a halt Thursday, and all the warm-up work required with that abbreviated appearance, Parker had pitched five days in a row.

She struck out just a single Auburn hitter in Game 1. She was by all appearances pitching on fumes, albeit ably.

"There is a point where, what do you risk for this?" Gasso asked rhetorically in explaining her thought process. "Let's try to get it done another way and let Paige feel like she can be close to her best and really have a chance to win a championship. It would be unfair to her and her team if I put her back out there tonight."

Just as their Auburn counterparts were composed and even feisty in defeat a night earlier, Oklahoma players were calm and resolute on this night. No one mumbled or looked at the table in front of them as they answered questions after the game, including the freshman who was denied a home run that would have lived forever in Sooners lore.

"We're going to keep fighting until we get what we want," Knighten said.

It's just that to do so, they will have to beat a team that has proved very adept at doing just that.