In Mickey Dean’s first year as head coach of Auburn softball, the Tigers racked up four series wins against top-20 RPI opponents and were one of 25 teams in the nation to reach the 40-win mark, Auburn’s fifth straight season doing so.
But inconsistencies plagued Dean’s squad last season. Auburn hovered near the top of SEC standings, but lost four of its last six, including a sweep at Texas A&M and first-round exit in the conference tournament at the hands of rival Alabama.
And because of its limp to the finish-line, Auburn won’t host a Regional for the first time since 2014. On NCAA Softball’s Selection Sunday, the Tigers were placed in No. 6 seed Florida State’s Regional, rounded out by Kennesaw State and Jacksonville State.
Auburn has never advanced to a Super Regional on the road, however it enters a familiar pool of teams. The Tigers earned wins over FSU and JSU in 2016 and beat Kennesaw State 2-1 on The Plains earlier this season.
Still, Dean is allowed his grievances. All four of Auburn’s top-20 RPI series wins (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee) earned hosts. The Wildcats selection has been the most polarizing, as Auburn finished ahead of UK in the conference standings and swept it midseason.
But Dean isn’t on the selection committee.
“If you take a look at our schedule this year and compared it to other teams that are hosting, we matched up,” Dean said. “Whatever the decisions were in that room, we’ll never know — why they did this or why they did that. But that’s not our job. Our job is to get our team ready and make sure they’re ready for the postseason.”
With selections in the rearview mirror, Auburn’s crosshairs shift to Kennesaw State, whose Atlantic Sun conference title automatically gifted the Owls their first-ever appearance in the tournament.
In Auburn’s 2-1 win over the Owls on April 4, senior pitcher Kaylee Carlson earned her 62nd career victory, tops in program history. The Tigers took the midweek nail-biter with timely hitting and increased strikeouts in late innings — a proven formula for winning softball games.
That recipe won’t change in the postseason.
“It’s a very simple game,” Dean said. “Pitching: You work ahead, you get your changeup working and you attack hitters. Defense: You make the plays you can make. You don’t have to be Wonder Woman or Superman or make spectacular plays. We’ll take those — we love watching them — but just be fundamentally sound. Hitting, move runners and get timely hits. It doesn’t get any more complicated than that.”
Host Florida State is the biggest threat standing in the way of Auburn’s date with the winner of No. 11 seed LSU’s Regional. The Seminoles were a juggernaut this season, touting a 47-10 record and a flurry of wins against softball blue bloods.
And with a 23-5 clip at Seminole Softball Complex, Florida State figures to be the favorite. To the Tigers, that won’t matter; they’ve been disregarded all year.
“I think they’ve been overlooked,” Dean said of his team. “Nobody wants to look at what their accomplishments are, they want to look at the problems. You’re still talking about a team that won five of eight games in SEC series. You have a team that won 40 ballgames.
“You have a staff that has the lowest ERA in the history of this program. You’ve got a kid that just broke the single-season stolen base record. You’ve got a lot of good things going on and we tend to overlook that for some reason.”
Dean said he doesn’t feel disrespected, but come Friday at 11 a.m. CST, “we’re going to find out” if the women of Auburn softball feel the same way.