Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn softball Tigers couldn’t have a bigger challenge as they open SEC play this weekend with a three-game home series vs. defending national champion Florida.
The Gators will come to sold out Jane B. Moore Field with a 24-0 record and a No. 1 national ranking. Auburn is ranked No. 3 nationally and is 22-1 with a 14-game winning streak.
When these teams last met the Gators eliminated the Tigers from the College World Series last season with a 3-2 victory in extra innings.
Florida pitchers lead the SEC with a 0.67 earned run average while Auburn is No. 2 in the league at 0.96. Auburn's pitchers have not allowed a run for 40 consecutive innings.
Auburn leads the SEC in hitting with a .391 batting average while the Gators have been strong at the plate, too, with a .360 batting average, which ranks fifth in the conference.
Auburn coach Clint Myers said that fans could see all five of his pitchers in action for the series that starts with a 7:30 p.m. CST contest on Saturday followed by games on Sunday at 4 p.m. and Monday at 6 p.m. Each game will be televised on the SEC Network.
“Last year we didn’t have the choices we have this year,” Myers said. “We have got a freshman (Makayla Martin) who has really thrown well. We have a transfer (Kaylee Carlson) who is one hellacious competitor and that has made all of the other ones better.
“Marcy (Harper) is throwing the ball better than she has ever thrown,” the coach said. “Rachael (Walters) has come back and is really starting to throw, making the ball go up. Lexi (Davis) has been Lexi, the workhorse, for two years. She now has entourage with her. You are going to see all five pitchers this weekend.
“The nice thing of it is, it could be three different starters in all three games and that is unheard of in the SEC,” Myers said. “If we can do that we have just reduced their reps on any one pitcher tremendously. If we can only give them (Florida batters) two looks and some people three in a game, that is pretty darn good.”
Martin, a freshman from Scripps Ranch High in San Diego, Calif., will be the starting pitcher for the Tigers on Saturday night. She has a 5-0 record with a 0.41 earned average.
“She has pitched lights out," Myers said. “She is going to have to pitch sometime. Why not let her go in the first one?”
Martin said that she is looking forward to pitching against the Gators. “I’m really excited I have this opportunity to start off the SEC series against Florida. It’s what we’ve all been working for and I’m glad I have the chance to show out.”
The freshman said it is good to have a roster full of veteran players on the field with her who have had success in the SEC. “They’ve really helped me get my nerves down," she said. "They’ve been through this much longer than I have obviously. I believe they have confidence in me which gives me confidence. It’s good having them behind me.”
Auburn sophomore catcher Carlee Wallace says that the pitching staff has improved since last season when the Tigers won the SEC Tournament and Florida won the regular season title.
“I think you guys are going to be able to see that all five of our pitchers are more than capable of starting and finishing a game,” Wallace said. “I think we are going to see more variety and our pitchers will be able to pitch with more of a fresh arm.”
Carlee Wallace plays catcher for the Tigers.
Wallace made it clear that she is excited about opening SEC play vs. the Gators. “I think the atmosphere is going to be crazy around here,” she pointed out. “I know the fans are great. I love the energy they bring. I can’t wait to feel the energy again. I know it means a lot to the players and coaches with the numbers of people we have.
“There is just no place like Auburn, especially our softball program,” the sophomore said. “I think people have really bought into believing in us so it is going to be a great series.”
Clint Myers is in his third season as head coach of the Tigers.
Myers said the Gators have been winning with dominating performances from their pitchers. “They have been kind of up and down with scoring a lot of runs, not scoring very many runs. They only have six home runs so their power numbers are down. They are running more, but nobody has really tested them yet. They have not been behind and nobody has scored a substantial number of runs. That is what we are hoping to do and then it see how they handle it.
“They are a great ball club, but again they are untested, they are just like us,” the coach added. “Everybody is 0-0 going into the SEC and we have to go out and accomplish what we need to and win the series against a formidable foe that has some pretty good tradition.”
Myers noted he hopes the fans will be into the games like they have been in the past. “This team really reacts well to their energy,” he said. “It gets them hyped up in the dugout. You see more dancing. You see them high-fiving more. This is a team that when the crowd is up they are ecstatic in the dugout and that kind of feeds over into performance and everything else.”