T-Minus Ten Days
photo: Auburn Plainsman
It’s been six months since Track ‘Em Tigers wrapped up the 2016 softball season, which ended in a heartbreaking scene for the Auburn softball team and its fans.
The matchup between Oklahoma and Auburn featured a contrast of styles. The Sooners were a team anchored by an ace pitcher and a fantastic defense at the top in efficiency. On the other side was a team with a “pitch by committee” approach that made occasional mistakes in the field but could hit the ball like few other teams. On that day, the former won out.
While Oklahoma players stormed the field for yet another Women’s College World Series Championship, the Tigers wrapped their arms around freshman Courtney Shea. The young player, with tears streaming down her face, offered a tear-soaked apology after she grounded out in a pinch at-bat with two down. Even as the Sooners celebrated, it was the Auburn team that most said, “..watch out for that team next year.”
In 2017, fans will see the combination of coach Clint Myers’ coaching and recruiting for truly the first time. While he and his staff have donedid a tremendous job at coaching the previous staff’s players, it will be the development of his recruits such as Shea that will be on display this year. He wasn’t shy about throwing young players into the fire last season, and the innings played and at-bats for those players will pay massive dividends in the future.
The words “can’t-miss softball” are not frequently uttered, yet they should be. In a world where opening weekend neutral site football games for premier programs is all the rage, softball has done its best to capture that same atmosphere.
In T-Minus Ten days, softball fans are going to get that. The Tigers open with the Oklahoma Sooners on February 9th in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The book is out on the Sooners and is very good thanks to the superb coaching of Patty Gasso. Not so for the Tigers.
Other than Kasey Cooper playing third, not much is known about the Tigers. Starting just to Cooper’s left, there will be a big-time battle between Haley Fagan, who missed most of the year due to injury, and her 2016 replacement Whitney Jordan. Late in the season, Fagan’s bat earned her the designated hitter spot, but that isn’t necessarily the case this year as Auburn is loaded with hitters thanks to the return of coach Cody Myers, who spent last season with the San Diego Padres. In his absence Auburn’s team batting average slumped from .339 to .317.
At catcher, on most teams, Carlee Wallace would be a no-questions starter. Yet, Courtney Shea has been a big stick at the plate in limited opportunities, hitting .225 while belting eight homers, and has perhaps more upside from inside the box than Wallace, who hit .287 with five homers.
There will also be position battles everywhere on the field, including in the circle. where Freshman ace Ashlee Swindell will make the rest of the pitching staff fight for appearances, even though fellow pitcher Kaylee Carlson is listed as one of the ten juniors to watch this season. Other questions remain: who will lock down the vacated 2nd base left by Carosone? Will senior Jenna Abbott find a place on the field?
“It was interesting, the four coaches on Thursday submitted lineups, if we started today, what your lineup would be,” Myers said. “And we had four different lineups. We couldn’t agree on nine players.” Coach went on to say, “If somebody doesn’t do the job, if we’re not mentally into the process of execution, somebody else may be given [the start] because they’ve had a good week of practice.” That’s a great problem to have and it will likely be on full displace on February 9 at 1:00 PM CT on ESPNU. Make sure to follow me on Twitter as I live tweet reactions to the game.