Tigers Bounced By Bama, Wait for NCAA Tourney Destination
Makayla Martin and Kaylee Carlson did not get enough run support in Auburn's SEC Tournament loss to Alabama (photo: al.com)
Wednesday night, Auburn softball took the field against its hated rival in their first game of the SEC Tournament in Columbia, Missouri. It would end up being the Tigers last game of the tournament as Alabama advanced to take on first seed Florida on Thursday. The Tigers finished their SEC season 11–13 when Bama evened the season series 2–2. Alabama would almost certainly take this win over losing the series earlier this season in Auburn.
The Tigers entered the day as the favorite to beat the Tide, but when the final pitch was tossed to pinch hitter Justus Perry, Alabama celebrated a 6–4 victory.
After small-balling to a 2–0 lead on a walk, a passed ball, and an Alyssa Rivera hit, Kaylee Carlson gave up a two-run moonshot to Bailey Hemphill, the only real threat to hit one deep for Bama. It was a poor pitch to the power hitter, and Hemphill made her pay. The shot over center tied the contest 2–2 in the first.
After a couple of scoreless innings, Auburn struck back with a homer of its own as Casey McCrackin pounded a pitch over the wall, scoring Taylon Snow who reached on a walk. That was the end for Alexis Orsorio, and it appeared that Auburn had the game in hand as coach Pat Murphy elected to go with freshman Madison Preston, who eventually earned the win.
Meanwhile, Kaylee Carlson finished her SEC season on the bench, and Makayala Martin took the loss when Carlson was lifted with the game tied 2-2 in the bottom of the fifth and runners on second and third with no outs. One can’t second guess coach Mickey Dean, a pitching expert who has perhaps the best second pitcher in the league in Martin. But from the first pitch, Martin never look settled or even prepared to play. She walked the first batter to load the bases, and a wild pitch just seconds later gave Bama a 3–2 lead. A well placed hit by Elissa Brown in the 5–6 hole scored two and gave Bama the lead for good.
Auburn simply could not get the bats going. And this game was really a microcosm of the year, especially in terms of hitting and some questionable coaching in critical situations.
For example, coach Dean has elected to bunt with a runner on first virtually every time Auburn is in that situation. While it moves a runner into scoring position, the free out always seems to end up hurting the Tigers. Auburn has been one of the worst teams in leaving runners in scoring position, and the bunt sacrifice has been one of the leading reasons.
With Martin never looking like she was bringing her best stuff, Dean had the option to go back to Carlson. That’s exactly what Murphy did when he brought Osorio back into the circle to win the game, despite having bases loaded in the last at bat.
Perhaps even more head-scratching was Dean lifting Victoria Draper for pinch hitter Justus Perry with the bases loaded. Perry finished the year hitting .108 in conference play, the absolute lowest of any player on the team who actually had an SEC at-bat. While Draper’s slapping may have been a liability with two outs and bases loaded, there is absolutely no player on the team who can put pressure on a defense the way she can, even with a .203 batting average. That’s probabably not a fair number to judge Draper by, considering there haven’t been many players on base which she could use to put the pressure on the defense. In other words, her slapping is nearly a 100-percent infield hit, and there was only one play the defense would have to make. In this situation, the defense would have to field the ball clean AND make the right decision on where to throw the ball. Instead, Perry struck out on consecutive pitches to end the game.
The perception has been Auburn is watching a lot of pitches and earning a lot of walks, but the truth is that Auburn just didn’t get enough players on base and walks were one of the few ways Auburn could get runners on. In fact, Auburn’s 210 walks and 210 strikeouts were both lows since Auburn’s ascent to a major powerhouse. The K’s are, by far, lower than ever seen for a Clint Myers team, and the walks are the second lowest. From watching a lot of games, Auburn players seem to watch too many good pitches early in the count and swing at a lot of bad ones late in the count. Auburn’s .211 batting average against conference foes is the worst it’s been in five years, though the average has slowly declined from the .329 high water mark in 2015.
Much more was at stake than just playing Florida in the next round. With a chance to host a regional up for grabs and Auburn and Alabama sitting at 16th and 15th, this loss will likely have the Tigers traveling to a regional for the first time in years.
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