Kaylee Carlson (above) pitches vs. UCLA in the 2016 College World Series.
Clint Myers said “excitement” is a key word as the Auburn Tigers prepare to open the 2017 college softball season on Thursday with a pair of games in Mexico vs. ranked opponents.
“They know the importance of it,” he said. “They know what they need to do and we have had really good practices. I am excited, the staff is excited and they are excited. To go to the field to have somebody in a different color uniform is a long time coming.”
Interestingly, the Tigers open the 2017 season with the same opponent they finished against in 2016. Oklahoma took a 2-1 victory over Auburn in the championship game of a best two-of-three playoff in the College World Series last June in Oklahoma City.
The Sooners come into Thursday’s 1 p.m. rematch in Puerto Vallarta ranked No. 1 nationally while the Tigers are No. 2.
That evening Auburn will take on 13th-ranked Washington at 7 p.m. Single games are set on Friday at 2 p.m. vs. Nebraska and at 10 a.m. Saturday vs. BYU.
“We are going to play a lot of people there and give them some opportunities,” Myers said. “Some of these young freshmen are going to get tested and get their feet wet in this tournament.”
In the field and at the plate Myers can rely on senior third baseman Kasey Cooper, the 2016 SEC Player of the Year and a three-time All-American.
“We are ready to play,” says Cooper, the 2016 SEC Player of the Year, who was again selected to play for Team USA in 2017. “We’re ready to see where we’re at and what we need to work on.”
Carlee Wallace returns as a two-year starter at catcher and one of the key players from the 2015 team, Haley Fagan, has recovered from a knee injury and is expected to take over at shortstop. Other returning starters include Victoria Draper in center field and Madi Gipson in right field.
Victoria Draper, a redshirt junior, is a speedy center fielder for the Tigers.
Whitney Jordan, who started 65 games at shortstop last year, could open the season as the starter in left field where Tiffany Howard was an All-American in 2016.
Auburn’s head coach said he has been pleased with what he has seen from sophomore pitcher Makayla Martin and junior Kaylee Carlson, who are both coming off strong performances as they helped the Tigers post a 58-12 record. Martin put together a 15-4 record last season and Carlson finished 19-2 as a transfer from the University of North Carolina.
“They have really been throwing well,” Myers said. “In the last intrasquad game they were outstanding. If they can throw like they did in that intrasquad game we are going to be very, very happy. They hit their spots, they worked ahead--all the things we preach as far as our philosophy.”
At second base the Tigers have to replace another All-American, Emily Carosone. Sophomore Casey McCrackin, a right-handed hitter, and lefty-hitting freshman K.K. Crocker are expected to share playing time at that position.
One of the preseason competitions for a starting spot has been at first base where sophomore Kendall Veach has been competing with sophomore Tannon Snow, a transfer from Washington. Veach is expected to open the season in the lineup with Snow out due to an illness. She did not make the trip to Mexico. Freshman Justus Perry will begin the season as the backup at first base.
In the outfield freshmen Carmyn Greenwood and Alyssa Riveria have hit the ball well in practice and are in the mix for playing time along with sophomores Bree Fornis and Morgan Podany.
Asked what will make the trip south of the border worthwhile, Myers said, “That we come back better. You want to win, but at the same time you want your ball club to grow. You need to gain experience. You need to get some people some reps.”