Auburn Softball Chronicles: Tigers Melt Under Five-Error Performance
Kaylee Carlson was great inside the circle but couldn't get the defense to back her up against LSU Saturday. (photo: Julie Bennett al.com)
Leading up to the SEC Tournament semi-final with LSU, Track ‘Em Tigers had a preview of the LSU Tigers and what to expect from the Tiger-on-Tiger matchup. Auburn hoped to avoid the same fate as Tennessee, the SEC Tournament host. The Vols played the red-hot Bengal Tigers close until Volunteer ace Maddy Moss was pulled after coaches believed LSU had figured out the diminutive pitcher’s 70 MPH fastball.
Disaster struck Tennessee when a wild pitch, a passed ball, an infield single, and an error resulted in a five-run inning. Elsewhere in the inning, LSU added a single up the middle, a blooper to right field, and a double. Normally that collection of hits might produce a run or two but, sandwiched with the fielding nightmare, it added up to a surprise win for LSU. The purple Tigers upset the third-seeded Vols, ending their 20-game winning streak.
After Friday’s matchup was pushed back 24 hours due to inclement weather, Auburn ace Kaylee Carlson was expected to pitch a second-straight SEC Tournament game. The extra time should have given her plenty of rest to prepare for the hot LSU Tigers and their pitcher, Walljasper.
Auburn needed to avoid having an inning when a hit or two coupled with an error would be like blood in the water for a group of sharks, leading to a frenzy of scoring. If Auburn could prevent that and get the bats going, they could easily dispose of the upstart Bengals.
Auburn’s defense is in the SEC cellar in efficiency, despite being the nation’s leader in double plays, and its hitting in conference play is an appalling .228. It doesn’t take a genius to understand the relationship between these two stats and just how Auburn was walking the razor’s edge. The Tigers’ paltry hitting is a far cry from Coach Clint Myers’ first years.
Auburn had a chance to make SEC history by becoming the first three-peat SEC Champion. Could Auburn have flipped the hitting switch at some point to keep the dream going? Perhaps, but bad hitting and poor fielding doomed it on Saturday.
After a scoreless first inning, LSU strung together a couple of hits for a run. No big deal. Two more scoreless innings, and fans were waiting for Auburn to break out. But, through the bottom of the fourth, Haley Fagan managed two hits and speedy Victoria Draper legged out an infield single.
Then disaster struck.
After a leadoff single, Kendall Veach at first base nabbed a sharply-hit ball. Veach pivoted, fired the ball to KK Crocker at second and retreated to the bag for what should have been a 3–4–3 double play. But, Crocker fielded the throw off the bag and couldn’t push off for a hard throw back to first. Both runners were safe.
LSU’s catcher, Jaquish, came up to bat. As one of the best clutch hitters in the SEC, walking her was not an option. She made the Tigers pay with a blooper to right field, almost identical to a crucial base knock she had against Tennessee. Blood was in the water, and the LSU coach waved the lead runner home. Alyssa Rivera’s throw wasn’t bad, but it hit the ground about three feet from catcher Carlee Wallace and skipped over her head. Two unearned runs scored.
It didn’t stop there. The cleanup hitter hit a routine grounder to KK Crocker, who muffed the throw. Jaquish scored another unearned run, and Haley Fagan joined the error club on the next batter. Two more singles scored two more runs, and LSU had a commanding five-run lead against an Auburn team that hadn’t scored more than six runs in an SEC game since a 13–4 thumping of last-place Georgia over a month ago.
Not surprisingly, Auburn couldn’t overcome the score. A six run deficit on the back end of a game would be hard for any team in America. The last two innings were pitiful at-bat excuses for Auburn, none worse than the face of Auburn’s program, Kasey Cooper. She began her day with a strikeout looking and managed to pile on two more K’s.
In all, Auburn had five hits and five strikeouts with just one walk against Walljasper and Hoover. Five errors contributed to five unearned runs, and Kaylee Carlson’s amazing pitching was wasted again.
Perhaps Auburn was looking ahead to the upcoming regionals just as Florida has done the past two years. However, Florida’s tanking was intentional as it was resting its pitcher. Auburn did the opposite, pitching its ace in both games as errors piled up and hits were scarce. Auburn had just one big hit in the tourney, Veach’s two-run homer that won the Kentucky game Thursday night.
Will Auburn get right this weekend in the regional? They’d better. The Tigers host East Tennessee State, Notre Dame, and Cal. All of these teams should be easy wins for the nation’s seventh seed. Action begins for Auburn at 3:30 Friday afternoon. Fans can catch the game on ESPNU.