After dropping its first home opener in program history to Kennesaw State on Thursday, the Auburn softball team began its stint of play in the Plainsman Invitational on Friday night with a doubleheader against UNCW and Alabama State.
The afternoon did not start the way head coach Mickey Dean drew it up; however, his Tigers were able to escape the day unscathed with a pair of wins, 8-7 over UNCW and 9-1 over Alabama State.
The Tigers got their first game underway 20 minutes later than anticipated after UNCW’s battle with the ASU hornets lasted longer than scheduled, and – despite speculation over fatigue having just come off a long-running loss to Alabama State – the Seahawks were still the first to get on the board, pushing one run across in the top of the first courtesy of two Auburn errors.
The struggles for Dean’s squad did not end after the first. UNCW forced Auburn junior starting pitcher Lexie Handley out of the game early in the second inning and continued the hot bats against senior reliever Ashlee Swindle, posting six runs on another on another Tiger error.
Through the first three frames, the Auburn offense was virtually nonexistent. Dean and company had only four hits and had stranded a total of five runners on base.
However, the bottom of the fourth brought success. The Tigers found a way to load the bases on only one hit; freshman Jaylin Calvert then proceeded to put her team ahead with her first career Grand Slam.
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It’s safe to say Calvert was excited to help her team.
“It was awesome; it felt great,” said Calvert, who also informed the media postgame that she had switched up her approach from her first at-bat.
Auburn’s offensive production carried over into the fifth inning, where sophomore Haley Nillen hit a line-drive into the right field gap, driving in two more runs for the orange and blue.
All of a sudden, the Seahawks led by only one, and Swindle had posted three consecutive scoreless innings.
The senior produced yet another shutout inning in the top of the sixth, and Auburn’s momentum continued on in the ensuing bottom frame, where junior Makenna Dowell knocked her first career home run and tied the game at 7 apiece.
Inning seven was a stalemate where neither side was able to generate a run, and the Tigers headed to extra innings. Swindle pitched three more scoreless frames and kept her team in the game until the bottom of the tenth inning, where Auburn won on an obstruction call on the UNCW third baseman.
When asked about the impact of her game, Dean gave a large amount of credit to the young hurler for racking up strikeouts.
“(Swindle) was tremendous after that second inning,” he said. “She had 13 strikeouts.”
According to Swindle, the strikeouts did come with fatigue; however, the pitcher claims she was as ready as she could be to throw all 149 pitches asked of her.
“I was getting pretty tired,” Swindle said. “I am glad that coach Dean makes us run five miles every Monday, because – otherwise – I would be really tired.”
Game 2 of Friday’s doubleheader proved to be much more bearable for Handley, who was assigned her second start of the day.
Handley started the game with back-to-back scoreless frames in the, retiring six of her first eight batters faced, and her offense was quick to offer her support.
Auburn was able to push two runs across in the bottom of the first, one coming from a stolen base trick play and another on an RBI brought in by a Maddison Koepke triple.
In the following frame, the orange and blue put an additional two runs on the board behind the bats of Jaylin Calvert and Alyssa Rivera. Rivera drove in Auburn’s fourth run on her 150th career hit.
The in-state battle did not see another score until the Hornets brought one run home in the top of the fourth; however, the Tigers were quick to respond with four runs of their own, opening up their lead, and giving sophomore relief pitcher Samantha Yarbrough plenty of breathing room.
The following inning brought the ballgame to an abrupt end, as Tannon Snow hit a sacrifice fly to bring Rivera in to score to end the action with a run rule.
While Dean was pleased with Friday’s display, the skipper warns Tiger fans that this season will not be for the faint of heart, and that today is an example of games to come.
“This team is not going to be for the faint of heart or for the fair-weathered fans,” Dean said. “You’re going to have to learn to live with them and fight with them.”
Auburn is now 2-0 in the Plainsman Invitational and will continue play on Saturday, Feb. 15 against Alabama State at 2:30 p.m. CST followed by a 5 p.m. matchup with UNCW at Jane B. Moore Field.
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