Kaylee Carlson (above) is shown in action pitching vs. UCLA in the 2016 College World Series.
Auburn, Ala.--Auburn softball’s pitching coach, Corey Myers, says the Tigers will miss 2016 seniors Lexi Davis, Rachael Walters and Marcy Harper, who saw significant playing time in the team’s runs to the College World Series the past two seasons.
“It is going to be a lot different than it was last year,”?says Myers, who will be counting on sophomore Makayla Martin and junior Kaylee Carlson to have strong seasons.
“I like our staff,” the pitching coach says. “I think both Makayla and Kaylee grew up a lot last year, especially late in the season.”
Martin posted a 15-4 record with a 1.57 earned run average in 2016. Carlson finished with the team’s best record, 19-2, and an earned run average of 2.36, third on the team behind Rachael Walters, who finished with a 1.66 ERA and an 11-3 record.
In addition to Walters, the Tigers are replacing 2016 seniors Lexi Davis, who was 6-1 with a 2.49 ERA, and Marcy Harper, who was 7-2 with a 3.48 ERA.
The 2017 pitching staff includes senior Jenna Abbott plus freshmen Ashlee Swindle and Alex Nemeth. Abbott pitched as a sophomore, but focused on her role as a designated hitter in 2016. Swindle arrived as a highly regarded recruit and Nemeth is an invited walk-on.
Makayla Martin will be a sophomore this season.
“I think our younger pitchers are going to have to learn on the fly,” Myers says of the group that includes right-hander Swindle from Curry High and lefty Nemeth from Auburn High.
“They are going to be thrown into the fire,” Myers says. “This is the first time we haven’t had an upperclassman dominated staff. We will definitely miss the three who were here last year. We are going into the season with two veterans and three newbies.”
The pitching coach notes the newcomers are still making an adjustment dealing with college hitters, especially the kind they will be facing in the SEC. “Ashlee Swindle’s accolades from high school are a mile long, but what got you here isn’t going to make you successful here,” he says. “I think that is a huge learning curve.
“I think Kaylee had that same learning curve last year even though she was coming from another Division I program. When you are pitching in the SEC you are in the best conference in the country and you are going to have to understand pitching has got a spotlight on you. It only takes one bad pitch to be the goat.
“Jenna is doing great,” the coach points out. “She started out as a pitcher/hitter. As we had injuries and people not developing, she played a lot more first base. Her pitching has been on the backseat.
“Jenna has gone out and done everything we have asked her to do for four years. She is going to be a workhorse. If she is pitching well she will probably get more chances doing that. If she is hitting the ball well she will probably get less chances pitching and more chances hitting.
“Jenna is kind of in control of her destiny on both sides of the ball,” the coach adds. “The nice part is she gives us so much relief in the circle, at first base and on the plate. It is nice to have someone who has been around the block.”
Nemeth has shown the coaches that she has good movement on her breaking balls. “I called her two days before school started and told her we are going to put you on the roster,” Myers says. “You have a kid who was in high school six months ago and she is out here pitching against some of the best hitters in the country.”
The coach says he is trying to keep her encouraged as she adjusts to the college game. “You have to remind her that not too many people get Kasey Cooper out and when you don’t you join a long list of pitchers, good pitchers,” he says.
The Tigers will open the season on Feb. 9th playing the Oklahoma Sooners in Puerto Vallarta, the first of four games they will play over three days in Mexico. Other games will be played vs. Washington, Nebraska and BYU. The Tigers vs. Oklahoma game is a rematch of the 2016 national championship game. Auburn is ranked No. 2 in the coaches preseason poll while the Sooners are No. 1.