Auburn Softball Review: Season Ends in Regionals, Tigers Look to Future
Auburn's Kaylee Carlson will pass her pitching ace position to Makayla Martin in 2019 (photo: Cat Wofford/auburntigers.com)
It’s been a tough few days to be an Auburn softball fan. The entire Southeastern Conference made it to regional play with nine of the SEC teams hosting regionals. But for the first time in several years, Auburn wasn’t one of them. The Tigers sat just outside the Top 16 and had a chance in the last week of play and possibly the SEC tournament.
However, a sweep to end the SEC season at the hands of Texas A&M and a first round loss to Alabama in the SEC tournament destroyed any chance to host. That wasn’t a good thing for a team that was 29–3 at home and 8–9 on the road.
Auburn traveled to Tallahassee to take on Kennesaw State, Florida State, and Jacksonville State. This was likely the easiest road of all the regionals for a chance to advance into super-regional play.
Under the previous staff, regional play was an afterthought with Auburn run-ruling teams. When the dust settled, in-state team Jacksonville State sent Auburn home for good while FSU advanced, as did all the other hosts. It’s certainly a tough pill for fans to swallow, especially since the final loss was to an in-state school that would be a Wednesday-night special during the season.
It’s a broken record to try and compare Mickey Dean’s first year to the Clint Myers era, but it’s impossible to ignore. Myers’ teams didn’t get swept—ever. Dean suffered more sweeps in his first year than the entire Myers’ era. However, Myers left a disaster at Auburn that led to the departure of a key player in Carlee Wallace in addition to the best player in program history, Kasey Cooper, and several other big-time players like Haley Fagan, who ran out of eligibility.
It’s easy to look at the wins and losses and the dreadful postseason the Tigers suffered and blame Dean’s coaching staff. Although his coaching staff deserves some blame, it also deserves some credit. One of Jay Jacob’s last moves was to hire Dean, and he was, by far, the number one coach out there for Auburn.
Dean’s pitching expertise was evident, and Auburn’s staff was as good as any in the country, something that could not be said for Myers’ program. The same was true of the defense, which played at a higher level than it ever did under Myers. The .978 fielding mark this season was three points better than the best year under Myers while errors (39) were light years beyond anything Myers’ team accomplished.
The issue was hitting. Pitching and defense kept Auburn in games all season, but scoring eight total runs in three games became the norm. This weekend, it wasn’t enough. That comes down to Dean’s choice of Eddy Ketelhut as assistant coach and main man for Auburn’s sticks.
Ketelhut had a single year of college experience at University of Detroit-Mercy. The rest of his experience came from playing and coaching men’s fast pitch softball and coaching 16U travel softball. His first major college team hit .211 in conference play, 17 points worse than any of Myers’ last three seasons, while the slugging percentage was over 30 points worse than the 2017 team’s .344 mark.
So far, the results have been poor, but fans may need to give Ketelhut another season to try and turn the hitting around. After all, Auburn not only went through player turnover but a major change in philosophy. In the end, he was faced with, possibly, an insurmountable task for such a short period of time and with a young and inexperienced roster. Auburn started two true freshmen in Makenna Dowel and Taylon Snow while sophomore Tannon Snow returned to the designated player spot after a year away from the game.
In truth, diminishing results were there before Dean and Ketelhut even came into the picture. Batting and slugging declined drastically each year under Myers. In fact, since 2015 slugging dropped nearly 100 points a year while the batting average dropped 50 points annually.
That’s not making excuses because hitting HAS to improve leading in to next year. Auburn’s pitching will not be as good next season with Makayla Martin as the headliner, but it will still be very good.
Auburn must find a new catcher, who may be veteran Kendall Veach. And Dean will be looking to Morgan Podany to take over for sparkplug Victoria Draper in center. Other than that, Auburn will have a veteran team that, with improved hitting, should go a lot further next season.