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Auburn softball, Maddie Penta outlasts UCF

The postseason is where legends are made, and Auburn softball's Maddie Penta is a legend.

Thanks to an absolutely heroic performance from the senior pitcher, the Tigers defeated UCF 2-1 on Saturday to advance to day three of the Tallahassee Regional. Penta posted career highs in pitches (12), strikeouts (224) and strikeouts (21). She allowed three hits and walked five batters.

Penta's 21 strikeouts set a new program record.

Auburn (29-20-1) played two games on Saturday, first earning a 9-0 victory over Chattanooga (42-16) earlier in the evening before battling the Knights (31-25) in a 12-inning marathon , which lasted just under four and a half hours.

Thanks to Penta, who also started against the Mocs and threw 33 pitches in three innings, coach Mickey Dean's era at Auburn will last at least another day. Dean announced in March that he planned to step down from his position at the end of the season. For the Tigers to stay alive and reach a super regional for the first time under Dean, they must beat Florida State twice on Sunday.

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Auburn Softball's Maddie Penta and UCF's Sarah Willis engage in a pitching duel

There were eight consecutive zeros in the box score in the first four frames of Auburn's matchup with UCF, four of which went to the Tigers and four to the Knights. Penta and Knights pitcher Sarah Willis traded a deal, as a blast from Auburn's Makayla Packer in the top of the fifth inning for Willis was about the only major hiccup.

UCF responded quickly in the bottom half of the fifth, loading the bases after Penta gave up a double, intentionally walked Jada Cody and struck out two batters in a row. Penta's second batter – Sona Halajian – drove in a run, although this was somewhat controversial as Auburn claimed Halajian was unfairly crowding the plate. The referees disagreed.

With 21 strikeouts, Penta has surpassed the .250 mark in 2024. She is the first player in program history to record 250 or more strikeouts in three consecutive seasons.

Amelia Lech finally makes her breakthrough

Penta and Willis each pitched six consecutive scoreless innings after giving up a run each in the fifth frame. Auburn's Amelia Lech broke the tie with a single to left field in the top of the 12th inning that scored the Packer from second base.

What's next

The Tigers play the Seminoles on Sunday at 3 p.m. CT. If Auburn wins, there will be a rematch between the two teams 35 minutes after the conclusion of the first matchup.

Richard Silva is the Auburn Athletics beat writer for the Montgomery Advertiser. He can be reached by email at rsilva@gannett.com or on X, formerly known as Twitter, @rich_silva18.

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