Auburn Softball Swept by Kentucky, Readies for Final Home Series
The Auburn Softball team will play their last home series this weekend, April 26-28 before completing the regular season at Arkansas next week. (photo: Auburn media file)
There is unrest brewing among dedicated Auburn softball fans following the latest disappointing series. Auburn came into the weekend ranked in the Top 20 with a 34–9 record. At 9–6 in the SEC, the Tigers were within striking distance of taking over the top place in the conference, which they accomplished for about 24 hours after winning the Tennessee series in Knoxville. At that point, Auburn had won three series while dropping just one to Georgia. Since then, however, Auburn hasn’t won a series. That disappointment was capped by being swept at Kentucky, which made even the most stalwart Auburn softball fan mystified and, frankly, angry.
I was astounded to read comments on social media referring to the “good ole’ days” under ex-coach Clint Myers, who was essentially run out of town after the fiasco embroiling assistant coach (and his son) Cody Myers. Fans are always quick to react though, and overreaction is a frequent part of fandom.
In the case of the softball Tigers, fans were talking negatively about a second-year coach who is missing his ace, Makayla Martin and likely will go into post-season play without his best pitcher. Yet, heading into Lexington, this was still one of the best teams in the country, regardless of whether or not it had lost two straight series. Most of the time, it wouldn’t be fair to judge a head coach in this situation, especially when following a coach who took Auburn to the top of the sport. Softball can be a streaky game, and there was nothing on the field this weekend that looked like a top program in contention for championships.
Unfortunately, the issues aren’t limited to missing the team’s best pitcher or giving up bunches of runs. There are certain things that have been visible during Mickey Dean’s tenure that were amplified in last weekend’s sweep. It isn’t always just the numbers but the game within the game.
Multiple times this weekend, Dean was either out-coached by Kentucky’s staff or by doing himself in. In the deciding game Auburn was clinging to a 2–1 lead in the second inning when the Kentucky base running advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. With one out, Dean elected to intentionally walk slugger Abbey Cheek instead of trying to force her into a bad hit or get her to chase bad pitches. Ashley Swindle then hung a meatball to Kentucky’s Martens on the first pitch, and Martens promptly smashed it to the scoreboard to put Auburn away.
Surely, one scenario doesn’t win or lose a series, but …
there were plenty of other questionable calls and head-scratching moments throughout the series. Kentucky dominated Auburn with its short game. Time and time again, Auburn fielders were baffled by bunts and slaps.
One play that sticks out was when Kentucky had the bases loaded in the first inning with one out. A sharply hit ball went to shortstop Taylon Snow, who elected to go to third with one out instead of home or first to save the run. Her sister, third baseman Tannon Snow, dropped the ball. Later, in another bases loaded situation with less than two outs, Snow elected to go to first instead of home. The throw wasn’t in time, and the run scored leaving the bases juiced for yet another batter.
While there were plenty of errors and fielder’s choices to go around, it wasn’t limited to Auburn’s fielders. Lexi Handley started game one for the Tigers and her control struggles continued with two wild pitches and five walks. There were multiple times when she did not know where to go with the ball when Kentucky pushed its short game on the Tigers. Dean doggedly stuck with Handley through the entire game one as the Wildcats piled up seven runs on seven hits.
Fast forward to game three when Chardonnay Harris, likely Auburn’s best pitcher of the series, had the Wildcats scoreless with just one hit through six innings. Harris allowed a lead-off homer followed by a double and two singles that put Kentucky up 2–0. Dean was quick on the leash with a 2–0 score, and Swindle made her second appearance of the weekend. Her first batter singled, scoring two before a single back to Swindle put runners on first and third. Dean went right back to Harris, who then gave up three more runs.
Auburn gave up seven runs in every game this weekend, totaling 21 for the series. Obviously pitching and defense has to be better, but the hitting was absolutely atrocious. Auburn scored three runs this weekend. Three. Auburn barreled zero balls in game one and just two in game two. They couldn’t drive the ball out of the infield for most of the time.
In game one, Kentucky’s excellent pitch calling and execution saw the first six of nine balls put into play to its All-American shortstop. Kentucky’s shortstop had eight put-outs, and its pitcher had six K’s while adding one put-out. The two combined for an astounding 15 outs. That’s what the combination of good pitch calling and hitting the pitcher’s spots looks like.
Again, seasons are not decided by series, games, or even plays. But the same recurring problems continue to haunt Auburn. Opponents know that Auburn isn’t swinging at a first strike, just as it is going to bunt with runners aboard with less than two outs. It has led to a lot of bad at bats as well as situations like the second inning of game three, which ended with back-to-back popped-up bunts.
On the field, Auburn is not prepared for bunts and slappers, and pitching management has been a complete mystery. Auburn’s body language in games one and two was poor enough to warrant on-the-record comments by Coach Dean. It wasn’t missed by fans, either, as Auburn’s infielders were clearly upset with how the Tigers were playing, specifically the pitching. Even without All-American Makayla Martin, the Tigers have to correct these things to finish strong and make a good showing in the postseason.
Auburn hosts Florida this weekend, and the series kicks off Friday at 6:00 PM on the SEC Network.