Clint Myers (above) talks to pitcher Kaylee Carlson, who has a 26-4 record this season.
The Path Is Set
Nevermind the uncharacteristic performance in the SEC Tournament loss to LSU, Coach Clint Myers and the Auburn softball Tigers have once again earned the right to play at home all the way to the Women’s College World Series after being named the number seven national seed on Sunday night.
The Tigers appear to have gotten a break with ETSU, Notre Dame and Cal the three other teams scheduled to come into Jane B. Moore Field for this weekend’s regional with none of the three possessing top-flight pitching in terms of numbers. That’s good news for an Auburn team that needs to build some confidence at the plate, especially if the seeds hold true.
Potentially waiting in a Super Regional would be Oklahoma. The team that defeated the Tigers in last year’s national championship series, the Sooners have played well after scuffling early in the season. One of those came in the season opener with Auburn beating Oklahoma 3-2.
As Myers said, you can’t put the cart before the horse because last year a potential Auburn-Tennessee rematch was squashed by Arizona in Knoxville. While both Auburn and Oklahoma appear to be on a collision course in two weeks, both have to take care of business first.
For this Auburn team it has been able to do just that, but it hasn’t been easy. Issues at the plate and defensively have made things tough on the Tigers this season along with off-the-field problems plus injuries. With a clean slate now in the NCAA Tournament we’ll see if this team can put it all together because if the Tigers start clicking this is a group that can once again make plenty of noise.
It’s hard to put your finger on just what has gone wrong with Auburn's baseball team, but there is no question that the doubleheader sweep to Alabama last Saturday killed the momentum for a team that had a lot of things go right to get to a 14-7 SEC record and first place in the league standings.
Already thin on the mound, Auburn has dealt with not only fatigue issues for both Keegan Thompson and Casey Mize, but Andrew Mitchell had issues early in the season as well. Throw in a sore elbow for Daniel Robert and there hasn’t been much room for error on the mound this season.
That meant this team needed to get clutch hits and play very good defense, things they did through the first 21 games of the league schedule. Even when one of more of those things broke down the Tigers seemingly found a different way to win games. Whether it was a walk-off home run by a freshman for his only home run of the season or getting a ball thrown away by the Florida pitcher to secure a sweep, Auburn found a way to make things happen time and time again.
Fast forward to the last two weeks and it has been just the opposite. Auburn has been the team waiting for something bad to happen, which has been a trend for teams in the program for much of the last decade.
They now have a chance to erase those thoughts this coming weekend when Ole Miss comes to town. A team that has plenty of talent, Ole Miss will present a big challenge for an Auburn team that is struggling to score runs and probably needs two wins to feel good about its NCAA Tournament chances.
People asked me before the season what I thought Auburn’s SEC record would be and I said somewhere between 13-17 and 16-14. That was my thinking because of the lack of depth on the mound and a lack of offense. For much of the regular season the Tigers were able to overcome those things, but when it mattered most they came back to bite in the worst of ways.
Getting to travel for much of the week to check out prospects across Alabama with Scout’s John Garcia is always a fun time for me. While it was much different this season with Hampton and my wife Neeley at home, it was a chance to see some of the future stars in the recruiting world for not only 2018 but beyond.
I’m always thankful for the relationships we have built with high school coaches in the state and that makes things so much easier. Whether it was our first stop at Sidney Lanier in Montgomery where the entire administration made sure we were taken care of to Blount where Coach Lev Holly carried us through the school finding his top guys to St. Paul’s where Steve Mask just lets us go wherever we want on the field, the initial day of being on the road definitely set the tone for the rest of the week.
Trips to Spanish Fort and Robert E. Lee in Montgomery followed on day two and both were very enjoyable experiences. At Lee current Auburn safety Daniel Thomas acted as our press agent by telling us which players we needed to watch and which young guys to pay attention to.
Day three started at Lanett and Cliff Story is one of the best. A guy I have known since he was an assistant at Auburn High, he’s got some talented kids for a 2A school and if you have time you need to check out the Panthers on the basketball court. Back-to-back state champions, they have five players over 6-5 on a 2A team with two seniors both among the best players in the state.
Going back to Thompson was a great experience as well. Former Auburn graduate assistant Wes Murphy coaches the defensive line for the Warriors with Mark Freeman in his second season as the head coach. Freeman has always been good to us since his days at Spanish Fort, making it easy to maneuver around practice and get what we need to get in terms of photos and video.
Finishing out the week at Jacksonville State, I can’t say enough about the hospitality from the program as they were hosts for about a dozen spring games over the course of two days. Setting up food and drinks for officials and media, they opened up their doors to make everyone feel welcome and also put the games on the live stream so people could watch back home.
All-in-all it was a great week and just showcased once again the continued improvement in football in Alabama and also the quality people involved in helping young kids play the game every day.