Auburn Softball Chronicles: Tigers Win First Series in Tuscaloosa
Kaylee Carlson pitched her 19th complete game and fifth shutout against Alabama Friday (photo: Vasha Hunt/al.com)
There may not have been 83,451 fans or a Kick Six, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t high drama at the sold out Rhoads Stadium in Tuscaloosa this weekend. It started in game one as the Tide and Tigers were scoreless through the seven regulation innings before Auburn took a commanding 3-0 lead in the ninth, thanks to an error committed on Haley Fagan’s hit that scored Kasey Cooper. Kendall Veach added two insurance runs and Kaylee Carlson shut down Alabama in the ninth to secure the series-opening victory.
The Tide outhit Auburn 5–3 and pitcher Alexis Osorio stuck out an astounding18 Auburn batters. The difference was that Osorio walked 11. Auburn scored only three runs despite putting16 runners aboard. Luckily, things were tougher for the Tide as Carlson recorded her 25th win, her 19th complete game and her fifth shutout.
Makayala Martin took the circle on Saturday and allowed just a single run on eight hits to garner her 18th win. Offensively, the Tigers tallied eight hits. Freshman phenom Alyssa Rivera scored three runs with a bases-loaded hit. Morgan Podany earned a surprise start and made the most of it with two hits and scoring a run. KK Crocker added two crucial hits from the bottom of the lineup. The Tigers clinched a series for the first time ever in Tuscaloosa by a 4–1 score when Carlson entered the game and shut down the Tide.
The real story for Saturday’s contest wasn’t just about Auburn’s first ever series win in Tuscaloosa. Instead, it was …
whether All-American Kasey Cooper had made her last at-bat when she was hit by a pitch early in Saturday’s contest. It was the second time the third baseman was hit in the series, but this pitch found her unguarded left arm. She was unable to continue and was forced to watched the rest of the contest from the dugout.
As a result, Kendall Veach moved to third base, and freshman Justus Perry entered the lineup at first base. Perry’s inexperience led to an infield single in the final stanza that could have spelled doom for Auburn when she fielded a grounder in front of second baseman KK Crocker. Perry was unable to recover and get to the bag before the hitter. This put two aboard with no outs. Perry wasn’t any better at the plate as she went 0–2, striking out twice.
Cooper returned for game three on Sunday. She was treated for a deep bone bruise and pictures on social media showed a very swollen forearm. Luckily, she didn’t have to swing the bat all day as she was walked four times in her five at-bats.
While her reinstatement to the lineup may have lifted her teammates’ spirits, it didn’t show in their hitting. Auburn loaded the bases in both the first two innings but had two strikeouts with two outs: First Kendall Veach struck out looking, followed by a very uncharacteristic backwards K from Auburn’s designated hitter for game three—Carlee Wallace. In all, Auburn stranded ten base runners. The bright spot was Haley Fagan, who hit two home runs that scored both of Auburn’s runs.
Coach Clint Myers elected to start Ashlee Swindle in a surprise move, allowing the struggling freshman some valuable experience against a good, albeit struggling, SEC team. She couldn’t navigate the upstart Tide offense, however, giving up three runs in three innings before Makayala Martin entered the game and shut down Alabama. The Tide’s Osorio and Littlejohn combined to beat the Tigers.
The move with Swindle certainly surprised Alabama Coach Pat Murphy, who showed his true colors throughout the series. He was ejected in game one for arguing strikes and deserved to have been tossed earlier for his antics. He had an early emotional outburst when he stormed out of the dugout, then continued to mouth from the dugout before finally being asked to leave. He wasn’t done, and his antics in game three made his previous arguing look trivial. In addition, Cooper being hit and walked throughout the series may have been intentional. Both times she was hit the pitches were up and in, and she didn’t receive strikes at any other point.
Furthermore, Murphy may have been the reason for Auburn pitcher Kaylee Carlson being called in game one for an illegal pitch. For the unfamiliar, she has a very long step to the left before crossing back over to the right side of the pitching lane. Her step carries her onto the stripe. In one case, she stepped over the line and was called. Before the Tigers took the field in game three, Auburn coach Clint Myers noticed that the pitching lane looked narrow. He protested to the umpires, who measured the lane and found it to be three inches narrower than regulation. While the grounds crew was thrown under the bus, truthfully, it was Murphy showing “gamesmanship” as the ESPN crew called it. Expecting Carlson to pitch, he may have instructed the grounds crew to narrow the lane, hoping to benefit from illegal pitches.
While Auburn fans would have loved to sweep the Tide, they can take solace in knowing that Auburn clinched the number-two seed in the SEC tournament and likely denied the Tide a chance of hosting a regional tournament … a first under coach Pat Murphy.
Auburn earned a first round bye in the SEC tournament and is set to take on the winner of the Kentucky/South Carolina matchup Thursday at 6:00 PM Central. Make sure to follow me on Twitter as I live tweet the game @Best5Zach.