Tigers Rebound After Loss, Take Series Against Missouri (An Auburn Softball Review)
Kasey Cooper hit her 64th career homerun against Missouri (photo: Dakota Sumpter/AU athletics)
Friday’s contest started out just as Auburn softball fans would like to see a series begin. Kasey Cooper took a 3–1 count and drove her 64th career home run. Cooper’s at bat was definitely a sign of things to come on the day, only not for the Auburn offense.
When the final stanza concluded, it was the black and yellow Tigers who emerged victorious. Mizzou hit three long balls, scoring four of their six runs to take the first game of the series. Their other two runs were unearned, thanks to two throwing errors by Haley Fagan and Kasey Cooper.
Fagan also had a fielder’s choice that allowed a runner aboard for the third Missouri homer of the evening, this one by Braxston Burnside.
Auburn never had back-to-back hits, stranding nine runners on five hits, and Auburn’s ace, Kaylee Carlson, took her second loss of the season.
Judging by Friday’s result, it appeared Auburn may have been treading on thin ice against an unranked opponent. The Tigers fought back and took the series with back-to-back wins. However, things looked awfully dim on Saturday when the two Tiger teams teed it up again.
Missouri jumped out to a 3-0 lead on Saturday when the two Tiger teams teed it up again. It was the top of the fourth before Auburn finally warmed up the bats.
In one of her few starts this season, Carmyn Greenwood earned a hit, followed by a Courtney Shea single. Pinch-hitter Jenna Abbott walked on four straight balls. Carlee Wallace then stroked a gapper between center and right field, scoring all three base runners. A few pitches later she scored on a wild pitch, giving Auburn a commanding lead. Haley Fagan added a fourth run with an RBI single in the sixth.
That isn’t to say that things didn’t get interesting. In its final at-bat, Missouri loaded the bases after a fielder’s choice and a walk. Two crucial outs preceded an intentional walk to put the pressure on. A soft hit to the left side of the infield was corralled by Fagan, playing the hitter nearly on the grass, but the throw was not in time. The runner on third scored easily, and the runner advancing from second rounded third and headed home. First baseman Kendall Veach threw the ball home to Carlee Wallace, who was already headed up the third base line. A few pump fakes later, Wallace flipped the ball to Cooper, who landed the game-ending tag. Makayla Martin got the win.
Dressed in white, the Auburn Tigers were set for the rubber match on Sunday. After two games of mediocre play, the Auburn ladies were not in the mood to play around with Missouri any longer.
Auburn’s had a massive five run fifth inning, more than enough to snuff out any chance of an upset. Kendall Veach’s three-run stand-up double did the most damage, and freshman Alyssa Rivera added two RBI’s. Haley Fagan had an RBI on two hits, and Victoria Draper was a perfect two for two. Kaylee Carlson went the distance, allowing only three hits, one earned run, two walks, and one strikeout.
Friday’s contest really shows how different this team is from last season’s WCWS runner-up squad. This year’s team doesn’t hit like last season, which can be attributed to the roster turnover. Many believed that Kasey Cooper would make up for the losses of Tiffany Howard, Emily Carosone, and Jade Rhodes, but that’s not fair to Cooper, regardless of her accolades.
There is only so much Cooper can do. While she can boast a fantastic on base percentage, she has never been a career .500 OBP player such as Howard. Cooper has a good eye for walks, but she will never get as many free bases as Emily Carosone, who was often hit-by-pitches and walked at an amazing rate. These roster losses plus opposing pitchers not having to face career home-run leader Jade Rhodes makes Cooper’s senior season a tough burden. After all, she can’t hit herself in. She needs base runners. Without them, opponents are free to pitch around her, either with walks or garbage pitches.
Perhaps the biggest difference in this year’s squad are untimely errors by some of the veterans. Fagan and Cooper are piling up errors as they go further into the season. They have fourteen errors thus far. Adding Casey McCrackin’s nine errors, there have been a lot of unearned runs. Cooper is just two errors from her 2016 total, McCrackin is tied with Carosone’s 2016 season total already, though Fagan is on pace to beat third-stringer Whitney Jordan’s mark of seventeen errors in 2016. Still, Fagan is a much better player than Jordan and that should be expected, though the number of errors should also be expected to be lower. Opponents have done a marvelous job at converting Tiger errors into runs.
The combined slip in batting performance and untimely errors have led to struggles this season. No one seemed to notice Auburn’s mediocre pitching and sometimes loose defense last season because it was one of the top scoring teams in softball. That isn’t the case, this season.
Luckily, this past weekend was tough for many ranked SEC teams as underdogs won some important series. Tennessee knocked off Alabama, unranked Mississippi State took the series against Georgia, and Ole Miss swept LSU. In all, all 13 SEC softball teams are ranked in the top 35 of the RPI. That’s a truly amazing feat. Some believe that the SEC will have every member represented in the NCAA tournament.
Before Auburn faces South Carolina in Columbia this weekend, the Tigers play a nonconference game against Kennesaw State at Jane B. Moore field on Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. CT. The game will be televised on SEC Network+.