Tiffany Howard (above) makes her home run trot in Auburn's last outing.
Auburn, Ala.--Going into her senior season, leadoff hitter Tiffany Howard was expected to be a key player for the Auburn softball team with her ability to get on base ahead of sluggers Emily Carosone and Kasey Cooper. As the Tigers head into their super regional matchup on Saturday, their left fielder has been all of that and even more.
Third on the team with her .404 batting average, second in runs scored with 67 and first in base hits with an SEC-leading 86, Howard will be a key player as her team takes on the Arizona Wildcats in a best two-out-three series that starts on Saturday evening at soldout Jane B. Moore Field.
The first pitch is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. CDT as the 52-9 Tigers take on the visitors from the Pac-12, who will bring a 39-19 mark to Auburn after winning the University of Tennessee regional last weekend. Arizona is making its 30th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, which is tied for the nation’s longest streak.
On the way to winning their own regional on Sunday, Howard excited her fans, teammates and coaches with a grand slam home run that provided insurance runs in a 14-2 victory over Jacksonville State.
That came just eight days after she hit a shot over the center field fence in the SEC Tournament Championship Game in Auburn’s victory over LSU. That homer came in her 677th collegiate at bat and it was her first for the Tigers. It took just seven more at-bats for her second.
After her second round-tripper, teammate Cooper, who leads the Tigers with 19 home runs and is one of three finalists for the National Collegiate Player of the Year Award, joked that she only showed warning track power in the Auburn regional while the slap-hitting leadoff batter was the team's new home run threat.
Going into the season, hitting a home run before she finished her college career was a goal for the senior, who is known as a highly-focused player whose idea of fun on a day off from team drills is to take extra batting practice.
“I am definitely a perfectionist,” Howard says with a smile. “I get confidence out of a lot of repetition. That is where I feel like I gain my confidence.
“Getting hits during a game adds to the confidence,” she adds. “I think softball is mainly mental. Having a lot of reps and getting the mechanical swings and having that muscle memory is definitely important.”
Tiffany Howard is a speedy left fielder.
The winner of the super regional becomes one of eight teams to advance to the College World Series. Howard helped the Tigers make their appearance there for the first time in school history in 2015 and the Tigers won twice and lost twice.
What would a repeat trip to Oklahoma City mean to the left fielder? “It would mean like everything,” said Howard, who is 11-11 on stolen base attempts this year to lead the Tigers. “That is definitely our expectation now. I feel like this team has that capability. We just have to go out there and play Auburn softball and I think we will be good.”
Saturday’s game will be televised on ESPN2. Sunday’s game, a 1 p.m. CDT start, is scheduled for TV coverage on ESPN. If a third game is necessary, the start time is 4 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on ESPNU.