Auburn Softball Looks for Answers after Struggling Mightily in Opening Weeks
(photo: Auburn Athletics)
The success of the Clint Myers era took Auburn softball from a mediocre SEC team to a national powerhouse almost overnight. The success led to Auburn becoming a nationally-recognized brand, earning invites to premier early season tournaments. Separated by mere days, Auburn played in Palm Springs, California and Clearwater, Florida in two of the premier invitationals of the year. It was something that Auburn had just begun to experience under Myers as these events are scheduled years in advance. For the most part, the teams invited are stable programs, good or elite every year.
Under third-year coach Micky Dean, Auburn’s program has fallen on hard times on par with historical Auburn teams outside of the Myers regime. In many ways, the program looks significantly worse than it did in the years leading up to the Clint Myers’ hiring. From appearances in the Women’s College World Series finals to hosting Super Regionals each year under Myers, Dean’s Tigers have gone to failing to host a regional and not making it out of the first weekend of post-season play in both his years.
It’s a striking difference for the direction of the program. Dean’s first squad was 41–17, but the 2019 squad finished 39–21. This year’s team has already lost seven games only three weeks into the season, although most of the losses have been to Top-25 opponents.
Of course, the expectation of beating top level opponents should always be tempered, especially this time of year before conference play begins. Yet, despite that, Dean’s squads aren’t even competitive while the Myers’ squads were winning the vast majority of these matchups. Dean’s Tigers have been shutout as many times in 2020 as in the entire Myers’ era.
Auburn simply cannot score runs under Dean, and it is becoming evident that it wasn’t just ex-coach Ed Kettelhut’s inability to turn things around in his two years as hitting coach. Eugene Lenti took over for Kettelhut, but his 37 years of coaching experience at DePaul University, where he is the all-time winningest coach, hasn’t translated to production at the plate.
The hire looked great on paper and somewhat better than the Kettelhut hire, who had zero college coaching experience when he arrived at Auburn. Yet, hires sometimes fail the eye test. And that also seems to be the case with Dean, who looked to be a home-run hire when Auburn lured him away from James Madison. Admittedly, the season is young, and his squad can rebound, but the eye test doesn’t lie very often. The decline in recruiting and development of players from the end of the Myers’ era to the current squad is more than evident. Despite being a nationally recognized brand, Auburn has started the year looking more than mediocre.
Auburn bookended its first weekend at the NFCA Leadoff Classic with a brutal run-rule loss to Baylor, three wins against Notre Dame, Liberty and Texas State, and another shutout loss to Illinois. That’s not the surprise, however. That would belong to a 4–1 loss to Kennesaw State at home. It was the first home-opener loss by the Tigers in program history. The Tigers rebounded with five wins against UNC-Wilmington and Alabama State in the Plainsman Invitational at Jane B. Moore Field. The offense was much improved, and things seemed to be headed in the right direction. That is until the Tigers were back on the road, this time to the Mary Nutter Classic in California.
The Tigers were 1–4 in the Classic with their lone win being a 6–4 victory over Northwestern. However, the rest of the weekend was embarrassing. Auburn was outscored 44–2 in the four losses to Arizona State, Cal, Arizona, and UCLA. The Tigers are hitting a respectable .271 as a team, but are extremely top heavy with Tannon Snow hitting .390. The main issue facing the Tigers is a low .415 slugging percentage, but coach Dean’s doggedly sticking to the short game has limited Auburn’s run production as the Tigers continually strand runners on base.
Auburn has a chance to get on track this weekend when it hosts the Tiger Invitational with Binghamton, Minnesota and Georgia Southern coming to town. Auburn plays Binghamton Friday at 3:30, and the game will be on SEC Network+.