New Look Tigers Split Doubleheader in Mexico
Auburn pitching was superb at the Triple Crown softball tournament in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (photo: Julie Bennett/al.com)
Two years ago, Triple Crown set up an invitation-only softball tournament in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico that included historical powerhouse programs. The addition of the Auburn Tigers might have been a gamble on a fledgling program, but it paid off. The first game of the 2017 softball season featured a rematch of the 2016 Women’s College World Series with No. 1 Oklahoma taking on No. 2 Auburn.
Auburn breezed through its fall schedule despite playing multiple lineups. During this period, there was a feeling that this Auburn team would be different from the WCWS runners-up simply because of player turnover. Gone were stars from the previous two years. In their place would be young but talented players. What would the future hold?
Auburn took on Oklahoma in a retribution game, and Courtney Shea struck first. The player who saw the last pitch of the 2016 season, grounding out to end the Tigers’ hopes of a National Championship in their first WCWS appearance, stood in the batter’s box with runners in scoring position. Now a sophomore designated hitter, she responded with a RBI single, driving in the first run of the 2017 softball season. It was a fitting start for the Tigers.
Elsewhere, Kendall Veach started in place of freshman Tannon Snow, who stayed home with an undisclosed illness. Fans had limited expectations for Veach as Snow showed why she was a top recruit in the fall. After a first inning strikeout with multiple runners aboard, Veach struck back in the third with her first home run that rocketed over right center, never seeming to get more than ten feet off the ground.
The Tigers looked to continue their high-scoring ways and took a 2–0 lead into the fourth. Superb pitching by Makayla Martin and another homer by Veach in the seventh inning kept the Sooners in check. Oklahoma got on the board with two runs in the bottom of the seventh, but the Tigers won 3–2.
Although no one should question a win of this magnitude, there was an uneasy feel to the game. Gone was the lefty-heavy lineup that featured multiple slap hitters, including legend Tiffany Howard who seemed to put every ball into play. These Tigers did a terrific job earning walks and getting on base, but Auburn was unable to produce run-scoring hits, even though two of their seven hits went for extra bases. Tiger hitting looked more like baseball than softball, maybe due to Cody Myers returning from the San Diego Padres for a second stint with the Tigers.
Auburn’s second game of the evening against Washington began similarly to the first. In the first inning Auburn earned three straight walks with Carlee Wallace scoring on the second wild pitch of the inning. Despite the Huskies racking up eight hits, going into the final frame the Tigers led 1–0 on just four hits. Time after time, the Tigers got out of jams, but the Huskies managed a run in their final at-bat to tie the game. Auburn could not do anything in the bottom of the seventh, and the game went to extra innings.
Washington continued to pile on the hits and finally scored a single run in the 10th. Despite a Wallace single in the bottom of the tenth, Auburn was unable to score. The Tigers dropped the game to the Huskies just hours after beating the nation’s best team, knocking some of the shine off the day.
One player, in particular, had a lot of shine knocked off. Kasey Cooper, who collected nearly every accolade possible for a student athlete, including a stint with Team USA, looked remarkably human. Last year’s three-hole hitter moved into the lead-off slot, possibly to force opponents to pitch to her. Yesterday she struggled and had just one hit. Her 0–3 effort with a single walk against Washington surely stung.
Perhaps what stung even more was Cooper’s struggles in the field. Officially, she had just one error, but she mishandled multiple balls that led to at least two infield singles. And, Cooper wasn’t the only player to struggle in the field. Despite a spectacular grab by Victoria Draper, the Tigers, overall, didn’t look sharp. Surprisingly, it was veterans such as Cooper and shortstop Haley Fagan who never looked to be on the same page. Coach Myers said as much in the preseason, stating that the entire team could hit, it was just a question of who could field.
The Tigers return to action today against Nebraska at 1:00 PM CST. The game is not slated to be televised.