Uneven Opening Weekend for Auburn Softball
Coach Mickey Dean’s second Auburn squad came out crushing the ball in Gulf Shores on Friday afternoon. Readers may recall from last week’s season look ahead that situational hitting had to improve if Auburn wanted to succeed this season. Though hitting has declined over the last couple of years, improvements are expected this season.
Auburn took down Tennessee State and Western Kentucky in the Friday doubleheader behind offensive outbursts featuring the long ball, which had been sorely lacking. The lack of home runs last year was the likeliest cause of the decline in hitting from the Clint Myers’ era.
Kendall Veach opened up the year with a 4–4 performance that included two dingers. She added a third round-tripper against WKU. Casey McCrackin and Alyssa Rivera added one apiece to give the Tigers five homers on the day. Auburn outscored TSU 11–4 before beating WKU 8-0 in a five inning mercy rule game.
The Tigers were able to play a lot of players against TSU, including Makenna Dowell, Halley Nillen, and Bree Fornis. Dowell, a frequent starter last season and best glove on the field, struggles with hitting. Reserve player Fornis, who has been with the program for several years but previously unable to make much of an impact, laced a double in the WKU game. However, she was left on base three times after reaching on errors.
Ashlee Swindle earned the opening day start but gave up three runs on the day, including two home runs. TSU’s last score resulted from an error after a right-field single. Makayala Martin continued to be a lock-down ace as she shut out the Hilltoppers.
Auburn is looking for the second starter after Martin. Swindle has the experience, Chardonnay Harris has the upside, and transfer Lexi Handley is looking to make a push. Although sources have said Swindle has been consistent, the consistency has led to opposing teams teeing off on her. This is likely the result of not having enough movement or spin on the ball.
Saturday was a rough day for the Tigers as they dropped games to Missouri State and Louisiana Tech, 4–3 and 2–1, respectively. McCrackin added her second homer, and Bree Fornis showed power with her first ever dinger. McCrackin also had a double, and Justus Perry added the first of three runs via a walk. Auburn had six hits in game one but stranded six on the base paths, a troubling sign that bled into game two. Missouri State made the most of its seven hits, and Swindle took the loss despite striking out five hitters with just two walks. The Tigers’ lone error by catcher Kendall Veach in the second inning was the difference.
Game two was similar to game one. Auburn continued to hit long balls as McCrackin homered again for Auburn’s lone score. Despite getting four other hits, Auburn stranded five base runners. Martin took the loss after giving up six hits and two earned runs. It was a very strange game that saw the Tigers struggle with situational hitting to move players into scoring position. Coach Dean believes in bunting any time there are players on first base, and Tech was ready for it when Dowell popped her bunt into the air.
In the final day of the Sand Dollar Classic, Auburn took on Florida A&M for a 10–2 win before heading back to the Plains. The long-balling Tigers added three more homers from McCrackin, Tannon Snow, and Justus Perry. Auburn had 11 hits, led by Taylon Snow with three. Chardonnay Harris was fantastic as she struck out six batters and scattered five hits before Handley relieved her at the conclusion of the sixth inning. Handley allowed just one hit while striking out two.
Obviously, Auburn has to work on some things. While having 11 homers after the first week of softball is astounding, the two losses are frustrating for fans. Last season started much the same way with many of the same players starting out hot. McCrackin and Veach both began swinging hot bats against nonconference teams, but the entire team struggled when it got into the grueling SEC conference schedule.
Dean continues to push the pace on the base paths. Taylon Snow will be the key player as she takes over lead-off duties from now departed Victoria Draper. Snow brings a different style to the role. Draper, being a slapper, beat defenses with her speed. Snow does it with good old fashioned flat hitting and had nine hits on the weekend. While last season saw Draper crush the stolen base record, the Tigers are 6–8 in steal attempts so far this season. While that’s an acceptable number for now, SEC catchers will be much stingier.
Auburn takes on UAB on Thursday in Auburn on Jane B. Moore field at 6:00 PM to open the Plainsman Invite.