Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers (49-9) open regional play Friday at 1:30 p.m. against Jacksonville State and when they do Coach Clint Myers’ team will be looking to build on the strong performance on the mound last week in winning a second consecutive SEC Tournament title.
Struggling on the mound in a four-game stretch late in the season when the Tigers allowed 41 runs in four straight losses to Tennessee and Texas A&M, Auburn has turned things around in a big way. Allowing just 10 total runs since that time in four consecutive wins, Auburn’s pitching staff has returned to its confident way and that’s good news for Coach Corey Myers.
“It’s pretty interesting the turn around,” Myers said. “I said after the weekend in Tennessee that you don’t hear if often said that pitching is contagious. Hitting is usually what’s referred to as contagious.
“Right from the start we had a good first game against Alabama, we’re good in the circle,” he added of the SEC Tournament. “Rachael (Walters) set the tone and everyone followed suit after that.”
One of the things that Auburn did in the SEC Tournament and something that has been a big part of their success this season is pitching to contact. With just 250 strikeouts in 58 games, half of Florida’s total of 500 this season, Myers said their goal is to let the defense work and that has been a recipe for success this year.
“It’s harder to be a strikeout pitcher in this day and age because there is so much video and your team is watching and you have one go-to pitch,” Myers said. “I think it’s a lot easier to keep getting ground balls and like I tell Mac (Makayla Martin) all the time, you might give up a ground ball hit but your next ground ball hit could be a double play and then everyone is excited because double plays are a rally-killer.
“I just think there’s more advantages to pitching to contact. If I make a great play on defense, I’m more apt to come up and make a big swing or get something done offensively. When the pitcher is doing all the work the other people rally behind her.”
Striking out just 60 in 100 1/3 innings this season, Kaylee Carlson has been the poster side of pitching to contact this season for Auburn. At no time was that more apparent than in last week’s title game against LSU. She failed to strike out a single batter in five innings and Walters followed suit as the Tigers didn’t strike out a batter in the 7-1 win.
With an offense that can score runs in bunches and also play really good defense, Carlson said it takes the pressure off the pitching staff and allows them just to go out there and do their jobs.
“I would just say not trying to be so perfect with all of your pitches and make sure they are so far out of the zone because that’s where we get in trouble with the walks, now we’re kind of going back to pitching to contact and get ground balls,” Carlson said. “So pitching to contact basically means trusting your pitches and missing to your advantage and not trying to be so perfect. It’s okay if the hitter is touch it, it’s just not always trying to get them to swing and miss, it’s just trying to get ground balls.”
Now this Auburn pitching staff will try to lead the Tigers through the first regional round and into the Super Regionals this weekend at Jane B. Moore Field. Playing a loaded schedule this season and winning last week, Carlson said everything has led to this time for the Tigers.
“You play these regular series and of course they are high intensity and stuff like that but you go to the SEC tournament it’s just unreal,” Carlson said. “I’ve never been on a stage like that as far as college softball goes so it’s just really nice to go out there and play against the toughest teams in the nation and do your stuff.
“Oh it’s definitely prepared us. I think seven or eight teams are in the top 16 for the tournament, I mean for regionals but having already played those teams and knowing you can get those hitters out and bring what you brought before it helps tremendously.”
With the weather expected in the Auburn area, Friday’s schedule has been altered with Oregon State and USC-Upstate now playing at 11 a.m. on Friday with Auburn taking on Jacksonville State at 1:30 p.m.