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Upon Further Review: Auburn Softball Regular Season a Disappointment—Hitting Must Improve For SEC Tournament

By on May 7th, 2019 in News, Softball 3 Comments »

Tannon Snow is the only Tiger who is batting over .300 in SEC games. (photo: (Auburn media file)

To say that Auburn softball has had a cult-like following over the last few years would be an understatement. The level of interest in the game and in Auburn’s program exploded when Clint Myers took over the head coaching reins in 2014. The hiring of the nationally recognized coach brought instant notoriety to a struggling program. Fans following the sport are rabid and rival the obsession with any of Auburn’s major sports.

Following the nasty exit of the Myers family, the hiring of Coach Mickey Dean from James Madison in 2017 was considered by all to be a home-run hire. Dean’s first year was far from perfect, but that was almost expected, even with elite players remaining on the roster, as Auburn lost legendary players to graduation. Losing all-time hitting leaders and adding a new coaching staff with new approaches at the plate make it almost impossible to sustain previous high hitting levels. So, Auburn’s across-the- board batting regression in the 2017-2018 season definitely resulted in whispers about hitting coach Eddy Ketelhut.  

To some extent, fans expected a hiccup after ace Makayala Martin broke her hand. Most teams would have been devastated with the loss of a pitcher of Martin’s caliber, but Auburn still had a fairly competent pitching staff. Unfortunately, the Tigers have experienced some fairly tough times with Martin out. It’s tough to win in the post-season without an ace, but Auburn is facing even making it into postseason play.

Through nonconference play, Tiger bats were as hot as they ever were under the Myers’ regime. But, following Auburn’s SEC series victory in Knoxville, Auburn’s hitting has been abysmal to the point that rabid fans are having conversations about Dean’s future at Auburn. No one expected Dean’s Auburn teams to be as good in year two as Auburn was in the later years of the Meyers regime. However, if Dean had been able to hold serve, fan conversations would not go to whether or not Dean should be Auburn’s coach next year and would be unfounded and unfair.

A series loss here or there or a bad streak of games would not in themselves doom Coach Dean. Even after getting swept by Kentucky, Dean simply needed to stay at .500 to quiet the crowd. He could go into the SEC tournament, have a good showing, likely host a regional and whatever happened, happened. Fans might talk, but at least there would be grounds for a two-sided argument.

What he could not have had happen is exactly what is happening right now.

Auburn was swept by Kentucky, something that never happened under Myers. The Tigers won a game against Florida, albeit under weird circumstances in extra innings and embroiled in controversy. Then the Tigers hit a new low: they were swept by Arkansas.

Obviously, losing all three games against a tean at the bottom of the SEC is bad, but the how of Auburn’s looses has removed all doubt about this team and coaching staff, at least for this year. It’s not our intention to pile on the coaches and players but this is a situation where there can be no argument about the direction of Auburn’s softball program. 

It’s been interesting to see softball fans piling on the defense, the pitching, and, perhaps most of all, the coaching. It’s hard to deny that coach Dean has made some extremely questionable calls with his pitchers—his coaching specialty. Every series seems to have the same rhythm. Ashlee Swindle gets shelled and left in too long, Lexi Handley can’t keep the ball across the plate, and Chardonnay Harris keeps Auburn competitive in games that don’t matter.

While it’s easy to point to wild pitches, walks, pitch selection and errors, it’s also tough to win consistently by giving up an average of five runs per game. In the last nine games, Auburn has allowed 48 runs and has struggled both in the circle and on the field. But we can’t over look Auburn’s atrocious hitting.

While losingk eight of nine games, the Tigers have scored just nine runs. In Auburn’s one win, it scored just two runs, and the Tigers have been shut out four different times. Auburn has suffered no-hitters along the way, something that shouldn’t be possible in the modern game.

Is it fair to judge this team by nine games? Everyone has an opinion, but getting swept by Arkansas gave even the staunchest fan pause. Auburn ended conference play hitting .226 with just one hitter cresting the .300 mark. The Tigers had three daily starters hitting under .200, one of them hitting .056. Last season, the Tigers hit just .211 in conference play while having 111 strikeouts compared to 109 this season.

Suffice to say, there has been a wealth of information collected over a two-year span and, losing streaks aside, Auburn’s statistics point to at least one certainty: changes have to be made at the plate for Auburn to succeed. 

Auburn gets one more crack at the SEC, starting this Wednesday in the SEC Tournament in College Station. First pitch against Missouri will be at 3:00 p.m. on the SEC Network.

3 Comments

  1. Jason Wright says:

    The fans and especially our ladies deserve better.

  2. Tiger Tiger says:

    Hey Zach. It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’ve still been here, reading and enjoying the articles that you and everyone else writes. Thanks.

    I’ve also been following the ladies’ softball team, and this slump has been on my mind a good bit lately. I just want my girls and Coach Dean and staff to do well, have fun, and stay healthy. But I wonder if they’ve just quit on the season, for some reason.

    100% agree with your statement that changes must be made at the plate. Do you think that involves recruiting better hitters (as I recall Myers once saying in a press conference), a new hitting coach, or something else we just don’t see from our distant view of the program?

    I’ve also done a bit of digging…check out this article from Auburn Undercover: https://247sports.com/college/auburn/Article/PMARSHONAU-What-has-happened-to-Auburn-softball-131796577/

    About halfway through, we read that “The nosedive coincided with the NFP draft, when Kendall Veach, Casey McCrackin, Bree Fornis and Morgan Podany were chosen by the Beijing Shougang Eagles, where Hunter Veach is the co-head coach.”.

    So I checked out the Beijing Eagles, and guess who else (un/officially?) coaches that team? The Myers family: http://www.espn.com/olympics/softball/story/_/id/24765645/cities-alabama-turn-away-china-national-softball-team-linked-myerses

    Come ON, man! Corey Myers is still coaching women’s softball???!! The Beijing Eagles roster contains many players from China’s national team. And this team’s stated goal is to field the world’s best softball team in the 2020 Olympics. Here’s a bit of info on the Beijing Eagles: https://www.beijingeagles.com/

    Now, I wish no ill will toward anyone associated with the Beijing team. Actually just noticed a former Auburn player in the team photos, and I hope she does well there. It just seems really odd to me that this entire senior class, recruited by Myers, is now drafted by a team that’s coached in some capacity by, who else – Myers. And then the bats go cold soon after the NPF draft.

    Maybe I’m seeing things that aren’t really there. But some of these dots are connecting, and I don’t like it.

  3. Zach Taylor Zach Taylor says:

    I also read that and thought about Myers but that was about the extent.

    There are things about their hitting that have existed for both years. Bunting with less than two outs and base runners aboard, for example. They are so predictable.

    Ketelhut never coached in college. He has one of the most unqualified resumes for a position like that, that I’ve ever seen. I handle hitting for our travel teams and I can tell you that every coach has a style and sometimes that style doesnt mesh. In some cases, maybe dean doesnt believe in focusing while Myers absolutely focused on hitting.

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