Auburn Softball Season Wrap-Up
Kasey Cooper has been the unquestioned leader of Auburn softball the past three years (photo: Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics
Auburn’s softball season ended about a week earlier than expected. The team had made back-to-back Women’s College World Series appearances, including last season’s runner up to Oklahoma. It is fitting that another season ended with a loss to the Sooners in what is becoming a trend for Auburn sports. The Sooners took care of Auburn in the WCWS series finals last season, and the Auburn football team was soundly thumped by Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
The Tigers did get some retribution as the softball team defeated the Sooners in the first game of this season in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I guess turnabout is fair play as the Sooners ran Auburn out of Jane B. Moore Field in the Auburn Super Regionals.
Fans who didn’t tune in for much of the season may have been surprised, but the writing was on the wall the entire season. This year’s team was a far cry from the previous club. If asked, most fans would probably have expected this club to be better, considering this is Clint Myer’s fourth year, and each year the Tigers have improved.
This writer’s opinion from the beginning was this year would have a weird dynamic and a one-year speed bump. On one side of the equation, coach Myers had the last of the players who experienced the drastic swing from bottom feeders to the top of the SEC. It was possible that the upperclassmen could rest on their laurels.
On the other side were the players recruited by Myers, who may have felt a bit entitled having been sold the story of “changing the culture at Auburn” before waiting a year or two behind players who were already there. We’ll never know if this was the case or not, but we do know that a lot happened off the field. Meanwhile, statistics don’t lie: this team simply wasn’t as good as previous years.
The main storyline is easily the …
struggles of senior Kasey Cooper, a two-time All-American coming into this season. But as we predicted in the season preview, it was almost impossible for her to have a year similar to 2015 and 2016 much less carry the team.
Every game this season, announcers referred to her struggles. Indeed, some of her at-bats were just ugly, but there were other reasons not considered by the television talking heads. Auburn lost 30 home runs when Jade Rhodes and Emily Carosone walked across the stage at graduation. In addition, Tiffany Howard, who set the table for the Auburn club as a lead-off slapper with a .390 batting average and a .443 on base percentage, graduated.
What does that have to do with Cooper’s statistics? Those players were Auburn’s lead-off, two-hole, and clean-up hitters. Cooper hit in the three spot between them and was able to set all kinds of records in her career because pitchers were forced to pitch to her. Essentially, it was a Murder’s Row, and teams had to pitch to someone. Walking Cooper frequently meant multiple base runners for power hitter Jade Rhodes (20 HRs), something other teams could ill afford.
That wasn’t the case this year, and the numbers really show it. The team batting average was down 40 points from .317 to .277. Home runs dropped for the third straight year, from 99 in 2015 to 89 in 2016 to 51 this season. Cooper hit just ten dingers this year, a career low by almost half. She was second to Kendall Veach, who had twelve. In fact, she had career lows in virtually every category. Her frustration at the plate was evident all season.
Speaking of Veach, she was a pleasant surprise for the Tigers after being pressed into a starting role. Washington transfer Tannon Snow was expected to be the first baseman. Snow looked to be a great replacement for Jade Rhodes as she had been very good as a freshman at Washington, but illness forced her to miss the entire season. Veach responded well, leading Auburn in homers, but wasn’t exactly perfect on the field. This battle between Veach and Snow will be one to watch in 2018, although it’s possible that Veach may move to Kasey Cooper’s vacated third-base spot.
Haley Fagan returned from ACL surgery and replaced last year’s starter Whitney Jordan at shortstop. It was expected that her bat would be better than Jordan’s, allowing Jordan to take over a spot in the outfield. Instead, Fagan’s production was only marginally better than Jordan’s was in 2016. Although her batting average was better, Fagan had just two homers and fewer RBI’s than Jordan.
Meanwhile, Jordan’s move to right field did not yield the expected veteran stability. She was absolutely dreadful at the plate, and by mid-season she was on the bench, finishing with a .118 batting average.
She was replaced by freshman Alyssa Rivera, who was stellar for the second half of the season in all facets of the game. While Rivera had some highlight reel catches in right, she was spectacular at the plate, leading the Tigers in batting average. She was also one of the leaders in strikeouts, which can be attributed to youth, and is a star in the making. Nonetheless, hitting coach Casey Myers has a job ahead of him as the entire offense needs revamping.
The pitching this season was superb. In previous years, Auburn pitched by committee and really didn’t have an SEC-caliber ace. In 2017, Kaylee Carlson and Makayla Martin were simply fantastic, and the struggles of Auburn’s batters overshadowed an incredible campaign by these two players.
It will be interesting to see how they continue to develop, along with freshman Ashlee Swindle, who struggled in spot duty in spite of being a top recruit. Coach Cody Myers and manager, Hunter Veach, each helped the pitching staff, but the sudden resignation of Cody leaves Veach in a tough spot. Will he be the answer?
In the end, this class of seniors did a fantastic job of getting Auburn on the map. While they did not get the ending they would have liked, they have set the table for long term success. Auburn’s recruiting is at an all-time high, and the popularity of the sport has grown exponentially.
Make sure to check back here soon, as we will give a look ahead to the 2018 season.