Auburn junior Kasey Cooper (above) is the SEC Player of the Year.
Starkville, Miss.--When the 2016 softball schedule was announced it was a surprise to find out that Auburn and Alabama would not play each other in the regular season. Nevertheless, these two teams found a way to meet on the field this year.
Originally scheduled to play on Thursday night in the quarter-finals of the SEC Tournament, that changed due to bad weather in at Mississippi State's home park. The game is now set to begin at 11 a.m. CDT on Friday with TV coverage on ESPNU.
The stakes are rising as not only is an SEC title on the line, but the Auburn having a chance to play host to a super regional as one of the top eight national seeds could be in the balance as well. The Tigers (46-9, 16-7 SEC) salvaged a first round bye in the tournament by avoiding a series sweep against Texas A&M on Sunday and securing the No. 4 spot in the conference while the No. 5 seed Crimson Tide (46-11, 17-8 SEC) had to play in the first round vs. the No. 12 Mississippi State Bulldogs. Alabama won 7-5 to seal its place in the second round and set up the rival showdown.
In addition to playing for postseason seeding in this year's NCAA Tournament, Auburn is looking to defend its first SEC tournament title which it won in the final with a thrilling 6-5 victory in nine innings over the Tennessee Volunteers last season.
“It’s time to stop talking and go out and be Auburn,” said Coach Clint Myers before he and his team departed for Starkville. “That’s the key thing. (We’re) doing the things we practice each and every day, and we rehearsed again today. Good practices the last two nights with high energy and good performances. We’re excited about heading to the SEC (Tournament) and starting play.”
A key to victory for the Tigers will be trying to cool off the blazing bat of Crimson Tide first baseman Leona Lafaele. The senior has caught fire late in the year hitting 10 home runs in her last 13 games after hitting only four in the previous 44. Auburn’s expected starter is the sophomore transfer from North Carolina Kaylee Carlson (14-1, 2.25 ERA).
This matchup wasn’t on the calendar to be proverbially circled by Auburn players to begin the year, but it now becomes the biggest game on the season if the Tigers want to defend their SEC crown. The newly-named SEC Player of the Year, Kasey Cooper, says that her team has focused on the “little things” and is ready to start a new winning streak.
“We have a little bit of animosity going into this tournament,” said Cooper. “It’s a revenge tournament for us because with Alabama, we haven’t faced them all year and we’d like a shot."