Auburn Softball SEC Review: Tigers Topple Tide in Jane B. Moore Field
Auburn softball players celebrate after defeating Alabama March 18, 2018 at Jane B. Moore Field (photo: Julie Bennett/al.com)
The Auburn softball season has been a roller-coaster of sorts under first-year head coach Mickey Dean. After a record-setting start of the season that saw Auburn win its first 15 games, the Tigers jumped out to a 28-3 record before starting conference play.
Auburn began the real season in Baton Rouge against LSU. The two Tiger teams began the series with a 14-inning thriller. Auburn’s hitters were unable to get anything going for eight innings, and the walk-off run by LSU in the 14th was just too much for the Tiger defense to handle.
Auburn’s pitching has been beyond fantastic, and the staff is likely the best in the nation. Without run support though, Auburn was swept despite giving up only seven runs in 28 innings of play. Auburn’s bats aren’t just down from the Clint Myers years, they are just pitiful. Mickey Dean’s first SEC series loss made for an inauspicious start to his SEC career at the Plains.
Things didn’t get much better to start the series against Auburn’s arch rival, Alabama. Tide pitcher Alexis Osorio may be the best in the country as just a week ago she struck out 21 hitters in a single contest. Osorio beat up on the Tigers, allowing just one hit while recording six strikeouts on the Tigers. Auburn’s Kaylee Carlson is also one of the nation’s best, but she earned her first loss of the season by allowing two runs on seven hits. Auburn had chances to take down the Tide due to the seven walks given up by Osorio. In what could become a troubling trend, Auburn stranded runner after runner, and the Tigers couldn’t manufacture a run, losing 2-0.
Auburn earned Dean’s first SEC win on Saturday by bouncing back against Bama’s Madison Preston and Courtney Gettins. This time, the Tigers stranded just one runner thanks to
doubles by Washington-transfer Taylon Snow and third baseman Kendall Veach. Tannon Snow earned an RBI on a walk that scored younger sister Taylon. Makayla Martin continues to make a case for being the best No. 2 pitcher in the country as she went the distance for the Tigers, scattering four hits on five K’s and allowing just one run. The Tigers won the second game 3-1 despite two errors, a troubling trend that has plagued Auburn this season.
In Sunday’s rubber match, the two aces were back in the circle for the rivals. However, Osorio didn’t finish the first inning as she was struck on the crown of her head by a line dive off the bat of Taylon Snow. Victoria Draper, who walked in the previous at-bat, halted at second, and Snow was kept at first in a show of terrific sportsmanship as Osorio was helped off the field.
Osorio entered the concussion protocol and was watched by Auburn’s medical staff. Word from coach Pat Murphy was that she was fine but being carefully observed. Murphy has long been known for his comments about refusing to let players wear face-masks in the field. Gettins came in cold for the Tide and despite having pitched the night before was fantastic.
The Tide’s Bailey Hemphill struck first as her single to center scored leadoff speedster Elissa Brown, who quickly stole second base before scoring on the Hemphill shot. Fantastic pitching on both sides and defense added zeros across the board until the seventh inning as the Tigers entered their final at bat of the game down 0–1.
Last year’s All-SEC freshman player Alyssa Rivera came to the plate as the first hitter of the last frame. She had been in a severe hitting drought, but with a 2-2 count Rivera sat on a Gettins’ changeup and pounded it over the fence to tie the game.
With Auburn’s inability to put runners aboard and move them, most fans felt extra innings were in order, and the game would likely be ended by a moonshot. Morgan Podany walked but was held at first when Draper was called out on a bunt attempt, thanks to a new rule that awards an out to the defense if any part of a hitter’s foot is outside of the box at contact and may destroy slapping. Slappers cannot reach a low outside strike without stepping towards the plate. The old rule allowed this as long as any part of the foot was still inside the box or on the line. With the new rule, pitchers can throw low and outside indiscriminately to slappers without fear of allowing contact. Both Alabama and Auburn were stung by this rule, but it was Draper’s bunt, which advanced Podany to scoring position before being called back, that looked to have stolen momentum from the Tigers.
Taylon Snow reached on a fielder’s choice as Podany was put out at second. But fate helped the Tigers as a wild pitch advanced Snow before Casey McCrackin came to the plate. With a 3–1 hitter’s count, McCrackin smashed a liner to left field. As Snow rounded third, left fielder Merris Schroder did the unthinkable and checked McCrackin as she rounded first. The moment’s hesitation was all Snow needed to score the winning run as the ball came across the plate to give Auburn a 2–1 victory. Auburn’s players mobbed Snow and McCrackin. Auburn has now won seven of the last nine meetings with the Tide, one of the nation’s blue-blood softball programs.
Missing among the fanfare was Dean’s meeting with Alexis Osorio. This wasn’t an exchange of pleasantries but a real moment of sportsmanship as he embraced the injured player, offering her a lengthy apology and wishing her the best.
Auburn will welcome Alabama State into Jane B. Moore Field on Wednesday before taking on Kentucky at home this weekend. First pitch is 6:00 CT Wednesday evening on SEC Network+.