Auburn has endured a hefty amount of change since the last time the softball Tigers toed the dirt of Jane B. Moore Field.
The haunting Title IX investigation into the program resulted in player transfers and coaching refits. Hired to mend those and make positive transformations was James Madison head coach Mickey Dean.
After the dust settled from the team’s overhaul, Auburn softball got back to doing what it does best: winning.
The No. 13 Tigers ensured Dean’s first outing as Auburn’s new leader was an enjoyable one, sweeping their season-opening doubleheader against Marshall and Wichita State, 4-0 and 2-0, respectively, on day one of the Plainsman Invite.
“Our defense got us out of some situations and our pitchers attacked,” Dean said. “I think we were ahead on over 80 percent of the batters tonight, and that means a lot.”
Accentuating Dean’s proven pitching philosophy of strikeouts, as opposed to Clint Myers’ method of pitching to contact, Auburn’s Kaylee Carlson and Makayla Martin each turned in scoreless outings.
Martin, who earned the Game 2 win over the Shockers (0-1), kept the Tigers out of any serious trouble with six Ks in seven innings, allowing five hits.
In Carlson’s victory over Marshall (0-1), the Garden Grove, California pitcher rifled nine strikeouts – the most for the senior since her sophomore season.
“We did really well, even if we felt a little off, we were able to work through it,” Carlson said. “That’s pretty key, because when you play in the SEC, you’re going to get in situations like that. Confidence is definitely key.”
Despite Thursday being the first time putting Dean’s teachings into real play, Martin wasn’t surprised at the goose eggs on the scoreboard.
“This first day showed how much me and Kaylee have improved,” Martin said. “Seeing how our speeds have consistently stayed throughout the whole game was honestly surprising…in the past, we never really did that.”
Martin’s running mate in the circle wasn’t shocked either.
“I’m a senior and she’s a junior, so by now we should know how to do it,” Carlson said. “It is good on the first day. We’ve thrown a couple live [games] the last three weekends, but before that we haven’t really thrown much, so I’m glad we’re right back on track where we left off last year.”
Picking up where she left off last seasons in terms of efficiency in the circle, Carlson needed the Auburn (2-0) offense to match her efforts. Enter Justus Perry, who recorded the first starts of her career in the two games. In the opening win over Marshall, Perry finished with a 2-for-2 clip at the plate as Auburn’s primary offensive weapon.
Sans Perry, the Tigers struggled behind the bat in both games, with only eight hits in 43 combined at-bats, flashing shades of 2017 Auburn: efficient pitching, but shoddy hitting. Freshman Taylon Snow was the only Tiger to record a hit in both games.
“I wanted fast starts.” - Auburn head coach Mickey Dean on decision to lead off with Draper, Crocker and Tay. Snow at 1-2-3. @AuburnSoftball (2-0) scored 4 of its 6 combined points Thursday night in the first innings. (2 vs. Marshall, 2 vs. Wichita State) pic.twitter.com/c9D0ahQFu1— Nathan King (@nathankingdra) February 9, 2018
The struggles were headlined by Auburn's 15 straight retired batters turned away at the plate vs. Wichita State, an area that Dean isn’t concerned about.
“They’ve just got to relax,” Dean said. “They want to do great things. When you want to do great things, sometimes you press. Now they’ve got to find a way to relax and let what they do well take over in the box.”
Auburn will continue its 8-game opening invitation with a doubleheader Friday. The first game for the Tigers will be against Tennessee Tech, with first pitch scheduled for 2 p.m. CT at Jane B. Moore.