Kasey Cooper (above) will be back as a senior for the Tigers.
Auburn, Ala.--On opening day of preseason practice for the Auburn softball Tigers their coach, Clint Myers, said there is plenty of competition for playing time despite the return of six starters from last year’s team that was the national runnerup to Oklahoma.
“There are lots of options,” pointed out Myers, as he heads into his fourth season in charge of the Auburn team, which set a school record last year with 58 wins.
“It’s way too early to tell. We know where we finished at the end of the fall.
“You have got a good race at first base with three people over there with Tannon Snow, Justus Perry and Kendall Veach,” he pointed out. Veach is a sophomore as is Snow, a transfer from the University of Washington, one of the teams the Tigers will play when they open their season Feb. 9-11 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Perry is a freshman.
“At second base you have got Casey McCrackin, K.K. Crocker and Emily Spain,” Myers said. “All three of them are really doing well.” Spain is a junior, McCrackin is a sophomore and Crocker is a freshman.
Good news for the Tigers is that redshirt senior Haley Fagan has made a strong recovery from her knee injury that prevented her from playing shortstop last season. She was limited to pinch-hitting and designated hitter duty after she was cleared to play on a limited basis for the 2016 postseason when she helped the Tigers win the SEC Tournament championship and reach the championship game of the softball world series in Oklahoma City.
In the lineup with fellow senior Kasey Cooper, an All-American at third base, the left side of the infield should be a team strength. Cooper missed practice on Friday because she is at trials for Team USA, a squad she played on after her junior season at Auburn.
“Shortstop is kind of Haley’s spot and third base is kind of Coop’s spot,” Myers said. “The infield is pretty much set. We have got two good catchers behind the plate (juniors Carlee Wallace and Courtney Shea) so we are good there.”
Victoria Draper is shown in action at the 2016 World Series in Oklahoma City.
The Tigers have to replace two All-Americans. In addition to second baseman Emily Carosone, there is a vacancy in left field where Tiffany Howard played. Victoria Draper is the returning starter in center field and Madi Gipson in right field. Both are redshirt juniors and both missed fall practice with injuries, but were back in action on Thursday.
“The outfield is the unknown that we have,” Myers said. “Vic will be in center. Madi is getting healthy and she swung it pretty good in the morning session so that’s always good to see.”
Whitney Jordan, the starter at shortstop last year, could move to the outfield for her junior season. Also in the outfield mix are sophomores Morgan Podany and Bree Fornis plus freshmen Brittany Maresette and Carmyn Greenwood. “There is some great competition,” the coach noted.
Kaylee Carlson is shown in action at the 2016 College Softball World Series.
“Then you have got the two pitchers with Kaylee (Carlson) and Makayla (Martin) coming back. They are a year older so you expect them to be better and they were phenomenal last year.” Carlson is a junior and Martin a sophomore.
“Then we’ve got the freshman Ashlee Swindle, the Alabama Player of the Year,” Myers pointed out. “She has just got to figure life out, but she’s a workhorse. She works hard and she has got some pitches that will complement the other ones.
“Jenna Abbott is a pitcher from the left side,”?he said of the senior. “If she can control the curve ball, boy she’s going to be tough on lefties.
“Alexa Nemeth, who has three different speeds of slow, I’ve never really seen anything like it,”?the coach said of the freshman left-hander from Auburn High. “She will go out there and throw 52-54 (miles per hour) then go out there and throw a changeup that is 46. It gives the hitters fits because she kind of throws across her body.
“It’s going to be exciting,”?Myers said. “The first day is just get out and get it going. Then as we go it kind of separates just a little bit. People start rising to the top a little bit and we just keep it going.”
The Tigers open the season in Mexico facing the defending national champion Sooners, who edged the Tigers 2-1 in the 2016 championship game.
“The competition is going to be great,” Myers said. “We have got Oklahoma, then we play Washington and Nebraska and BYU. You are talking four Top 25 teams in the first four games so we have got to bring our ‘A’ game. Those four games aren't going to make or break the season, they are just wins and losses, but it does make a statement on how well you play. That is the key thing we want to do. We want to play well.”