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