Auburn Softball Review: Tigers End SEC Play Getting Swept
Tannon Snow drove in Auburn's only run in the Tigers 7-1 loss to Texas A&M Sunday (photo: Auburn media file)
There’s really no way to put it other than the Tigers limped to the finish line this season, the first under Mickey Dean. Auburn ended the SEC season with an 11–12 record, the first conference losing record since the 2012–2013 season when they finished 42–19–1 and 11–13 in conference before being defeated by Minnesota in the regionals.
Now is the time to be playing the best ball of the season, but the Tigers’ hitting has been woeful. Auburn scored two runs this past weekend and have scored more than four runs only six times in the last 18 games, something that was never an issue under Clint Myers.
Auburn ended SEC play with a road trip as the Tigers traveled to College Station to play against Texas A&M. At stake was likely a chance to host a regional. Auburn dropped games one and two, and Dean elected to bring in Ashlee Swindle after Kaylee Carlson was pounded for five runs in two innings in Sunday’s finale. A series win could have taken Auburn to 4th in the SEC. However, after being swept by the Aggies, Auburn dropped to 8th in the conference.
The game wasn’t quite a Top 10 match-up as Auburn came in ranked 11th and Texas A&M 12th, but it certainly had that feel. The Aggies will now likely move into the Top 10 and almost certainly host a regional. Auburn, on the other hand, needs a solid showing in the upcoming SEC Tournament to solidify a spot. A poor showing could push the Tigers to traveling for the regionals, something they haven’t had to do for some time.
So, what has happened to Auburn’s softball team this season? Don’t misunderstand, the Tigers are one of the best teams in the nation, and the SEC is unbelievably deep. The fact that the Tigers are still just outside the Top 10 despite being one of the teams clogging the middle of the SEC says everything that needs to be said about the SEC and Auburn.
Still, this isn’t where Auburn fans have come to expect the softball program to be after the meteoric rise under Clint Myers. The hitting numbers say it all, but it isn’t just on the hitters. The pitching in the SEC is the best it has ever been and despite a losing conference record, Auburn is right there with the duo of Kaylee Carlson and Makayla Martin. Auburn just doesn’t have the elite batters of the last few years with the departure of stalwarts like Kasey Cooper, Haley Fagan, Emily Carosone and Carlee Wallace.
Perhaps the one that hurt the most was losing Carlee Wallace. The senior elected to transfer to Baylor instead of playing for Mickey Dean. Clutch Carlee wasn’t just great at the plate but behind it as well.
Although her replacement, Courtney Shea, has done a fantastic job this year, the drop off in hitting production is largely because of Auburn’s inability to feature a designated player to take a weaker hitter out of the equation. In past years, Shea had been featured as the DP, giving a much needed boost that helped turn the lineup over instead of having a lull between the top and bottom of the lineup.
Had Wallace stuck around, Auburn could have put together a much more formidable batting order. Wallace is having the worst year of her career at Baylor, hitting just .275 with only two home runs, but it would still be the sixth best on Auburn’s current roster and likely remove Makenna Dower’s dreadful .182 average.
It isn’t just about Wallace, though. After starting out with a nearly .500 average in out-of-conference play, Victoria Draper is hitting .203 in conference play. She has spent over half the season hitting in the nine hole instead of leading off as she did last season. That isn’t all her fault, either. The Tigers are hitting just .211 in conference play and have won games only if they strike early. Although players like Alyssa Rivera have on occasion had timely hits, the Tigers have been virtually unable to hit in the late frames time and time again.
Gone are the days of 90-plus home run seasons. The Tigers have hit just 40, with Rivera leading the way with eight. Under Myers, the bottom of the lineup would have hit eight, and players like Cooper and Jade Rhodes both hit 20 in the same season. Last year’s surprise player, Kendall Veach, hit 14 homers in her first year as a starter. She will be lucky to hit half that this season as she has only six moonshots in 2018.
It may not be fair to judge coach Eddy Ketekhut for his lone year at Auburn as the hitting coach, but it’s also worth keeping in mind that this is his first year as a coach at a major softball school. He may get a second year to turn things around, but the drop off in production isn’t just because of the youth. Veteran players are having off years as well.
The conversation this year has been about hosting a regional, but the truth is Auburn doesn’t look the part of a Women’s College World Series team, perhaps not even a super-regional team. It isn’t because of the pitching, which has been fantastic. Nor has it been about the defense, which has had only 38 errors compared to 56 last season and 63 the season before. It’s simply bad hitting against very good pitching. It can only get better going forward.
Auburn heads to Chattanooga this weekend to close out the regular season against the UTC Moccasins. The Tigers will play a doubleheader on Sunday. The games will not be televised.