Auburn Softball Season Starts Friday
Auburn Coach Mickey Dean begins his second season on the Plains Friday (photo: al.com)
Perhaps no Auburn sport has exploded in popularity quite like Auburn softball over the last few years. Last season was a bit of a down year for the Tigers as Coach Mickey Dean’s first squad didn’t make it out of regional play in Tallahassee. And the disappointment of not hosting a regional for the first time since Auburn’s ascension to the elite level stung. Nevertheless, fans were excited to watch the Tigers play on the big stage in a newly renovated Jane B. Moore complex, but nothing stung more than the loss to in-state opponent Jacksonville State before being bounced by the reigning national champs, the Florida State Seminoles.
It was quite the thud to end the season. After starting out hot as they had done the previous year under former coach Clint Myers, the Tigers went 8–11 after April 1. That included sweeps at the hands of Missouri and Texas A&M, something that simply never happened under Myers. After winning back-to-back SEC crowns and advancing to the semi-finals in 2017, Auburn was sent home from the SEC tournament by the hands of its bitter rival Alabama.
The difference made by former hitting coach Cody Myers was obvious. From 2016, his last full season, to 2017 Auburn’s batting average dropped 40 points. The team hit 38 fewer home runs, dropped 84 points in slugging percentage, and 38 points in on base percentage.
Those numbers shifted with Eddie Ketelhut leading the Auburn sluggers as minor improvements were made in batting average and the number of strikeouts, but slugging, homers, and on base percentage all dropped. Still, the numbers across the board didn’t change enough to warrant the blame game.
Dean’s pitching background would seem to offset Auburn’s inability to hit with superior pitching. Makayala Martin and Kaylee Carlson pitched incredibly and were likely the best duo in the country. They had ERA’s of 1.36 and 1.37, respectively. However, Carlson’s numbers were identical last season to that under Myers and Martin’s numbers improved from 2017’s 1.98. This fantastic set of pitchers held offenses under their thumb, but the struggling offense couldn’t produce the wins.
What can fans expect this season?
There are some notable early moves. Kendall Veach will get some time behind the plate and looks to have sewn up that role after playing 3rd base for large portions of last season while Courtney Shea finished her Auburn catching career.
Junior infielder and part time designated player KK Crocker announced last week she would be transferring. Although not an everyday starter, her bat will be missed as she had a .338 batting average with 16 RBI’s, three doubles,and a triple.
Tannon Snow who also was a designated player will take Veach’s spot on the hot corner. Justus Perry returns to her spot on first base after working her way into the lineup last season. Casey McCrackin and Taylon Snow round out the infield.
Taylon Snow was as advertised coming out of high school. She fielded at a .955 clip at shortstop, and she was one of the most efficient hitters on the team, second in batting average, fifth in on base percentage and the best on strikeouts with 12 K’s for the year.
McCrackin was easily the breakout player of the year. After being somewhat of a bit player earlier in her career, she burst on the scene as a power hitter for the Tigers and was third in batting average, second in homers and slugging percentage, and led the Tigers in on base percentage. The only thing McCrackin needs to improve upon is strikeouts.
The outfield does have one spot up for grabs as Alyssa Rivera has right field locked down with her strong arm and athleticism. Rivera led the team in homers (9) and slugging. However, she was far and away the worst player at striking out as she had 33 strikeouts, a full seven more than the next player. Still it’s hard to be mad at a player who believes she can hit it out of the park every single pitch.
Morgan Podany should move to center field to take over for the graduated Vic Draper. Podany has showed the same game-robbing ability in the outfield as Draper had. KK Crocker was likely to get the nod in left field until she elected to transfer, opening up a chance for Carmyn Greenwood to be in the mix for left or center, depending on how the bats go. Greenwood has battled injuries throughout her career and it could be her time to bec
In the circle, Makayla Martin is the unquestioned leader in the rotation with Ashlee Swindle and Chardonnay Harris mixing in. The word is Swindle has been more consistent, but it appears that Harris has the greater upside.
One of the biggest questions is what will happen to Makenna Dowell? Sources say that she has the best glove on the team. That could be seen at times last season when she made starts at short and at third. However, her bat simply wasn’t ready for college softball. She hit at a paltry .181 clip.
The Tigers travel to Gulf Shores for the Sand Dollar Classic to take on a host of teams from across the southeast. The action starts with Tennessee State at 2:00 PM Friday before a nightcap game with Western Kentucky at 5:00 PM.