Upon Further Review: Auburn Softball Swept by Arkansas – Hitting Must Improve for SEC Tournament

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Upon Further Review: Auburn Softball Swept by Arkansas – Hitting Must Improve for SEC Tournament

To say that Auburn softball has had a cult-like following over the last few years would be an understatement. The level of interest in the game and in Auburn’s program exploded when Clint Myers took over the head coaching reigns in 2014. The hiring of the nationally recognized coach brought instant notoriety to a struggling program. Fans following the sport consume it in such a rabid fashion that it rivals the obsession with any of Auburn’s major sports.

Following the nasty exit of the Myers family, the hiring of Coach Mickey Dean from James Madison in 2017 was considered by all to be a home-run hire. Dean’s first year was far from perfect, but it was almost expected even with elite players on the roster as Auburn lost legendary players to graduation. After all, it’s almost impossible for the hitting to be sustained when you lose all-time hitting leaders and add a new coaching staff with new approaches at the plate. So when Auburn regressed across the board in the 2017-2018 season, there were definitely some whispers about hitting coach Eddy Ketehut.  

To some extent, fans expected a hiccup this year when ace Makayala Martin broke her hand. Most teams would have been devastated with the loss of a pitcher of Martin’s caliber but Auburn still had a fairly competent pitching staff. Yet with Martin out, the Tigers have experienced some fairly tough times for sure. While it’s tough to win in the post-season without an ace Auburn has a much greater issue, such as even making it into post-season play.

Through non-conference play the Tiger bats were as hot as they ever were under the Myers regime. But following Auburn’s SEC series victory in Knoxville, Auburn’s hitting has been abysmal to the point that rabid fans are having conversations about Dean’s future at Auburn. 

No one expected Dean’s Auburn teams to be as good in year two as Auburn had been in the later years under the previous coaching regime. To be having those conversations that have descended into whether or not Dean should be Auburn’s coach next year would be completely unfounded and unfair, had Dean been able to hold serve to the winning expectations of the Auburn fanbase.

Coach Dean could weather the storm with a series loss here and there or a bad streak of games. After getting swept by Kentucky, Dean and Co. simply needed to stay at .500 to quiet the crowd. He could go into the SEC tournament, have a good showing, likely host a regional and whatever happened, happened. Fans may continue to talk, but at least there would be the ability to have a two-sided argument.

What he could not have happen, is exactly what is happening right now.

Auburn was swept by Kentucky, something that never happened under Myers. They won a game against Florida, albeit under weird circumstances in extra innings that was embroiled in controversy. Then the Tigers hit a new low when they were swept by Arkansas.

Obviously, losing all three games against the bottom of the SEC is bad, but how Auburn is losing has removed all doubt about this team and coaching staff for at least this year. It’s not our intention to pile on coaches and players yet this is a situation where there can be no argument about the direction of Auburn’s softball program. 

It’s been interesting to see softball fans piling on the defense, the pitching, and perhaps most of all, the coaching. It’s hard to deny that coach Dean has made some extremely questionable calls with his pitchers – the area that he specializes in coaching. Every series seems to have the same rhythm. Ashlee Swindle gets shelled and left in too long, Lexi Handley can’t keep the ball across the plate, and Chardonnay Harris keeps Auburn competitive in games that don’t matter.

While it’s easy to point to wild pitches, walks, pitch selection and errors, it’s also tough to win consistently giving up an average of five runs per game. In the last nine games, Auburn has allowed 48 runs. Giving up an average of five-plus runs a game isn’t the worst thing ever and Auburn has certainly struggled at times, both in the circle and on the field.

But what gets overlooked is Auburn’s atrocious hitting. Auburn may have given up 48 runs in this losing streak eight of nine, but they’ve scored just nine runs total. Even in Auburn’s one win, they scored just two runs while they’ve been shut-out four different times. Auburn has even given up no-hitters along the way, something that shouldn’t be possible in the modern game.

Is it fair to judge this team by nine games? Everyone has an opinion but getting swept by Arkansas gave even the staunchest fan pause. Auburn ended conference play hitting .226 with just one hitter cresting the .300 mark. The Tigers had three daily starters hitting under .200 with one of them hitting .056. In comparison to last season, the Tigers hit just .211 in conference play while having 111 strikeouts compared to the 109 this season.

Suffice to say, there has been a wealth of information collected over a two-year span and, losing streaks aside, Auburn’s statistics point to at least one certainty: changes have to be made at the plate for Auburn to succeed. 

Auburn gets one more crack at the SEC, starting this Wednesday in the SEC Tournament in College Station. First pitch against Missouri will be at 3 p.m. on the SEC Network.

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