After being eliminated by Florida in the SEC tournament and finishing the regular season with a record of 35-18, the Auburn softball team will now shift their focus toward NCAA regionals.
The regional, hosted by No. 6 seed Arizona, will be played in Tuscon and feature Harvard and Colorado State to go along with Auburn and the Wildcats. The Tigers will face off against Colorado State on Friday at 8 p.m. in the double-elimination regional.
The regional appearance marks the fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance for Auburn. But despite the Tigers success in recent years, head coach Mickey Dean is well aware of the challenge the team now faces.
“They’re (Colorado State) a good hitting team. Their pitchers are not going to throw it by you, but they work the ball in and out, in and out, in and out and you know, their defense is very stable. They don’t give you runs,” Dean said. “That’s why they won their conference, that’s why they’re going to an NCAA regional. They’ve earned it.”
The season has been a bit of a roller coaster for the Tigers but despite various injuries and inconsistency, two wins at the SEC Tournament have the squad feeling confident.
“It was a lot of fun. I think just the whole week, just the whole atmosphere — especially for me, being the first time in that environment and that kind of scene, it was really awesome,” said redshirt sophomore pitcher Lexie Handley regarding the SEC Tournament. “I’m proud of how we competed, I’m proud of how we played, I’m proud of the other two pitchers who pitched their butts off all weekend and it’s kind of a feel good. We’re excited for this weekend and we’re ready.”
Despite a 3-0 loss to Florida to end Auburn’s SEC Tournament run, Handley, a transfer from the University of Akron, came in to relieve fellow sophomore Chardonnay Harris and dominated with five strikeouts in only 3.2 innings with zero hits allowed.
“If she gets consistent, she can be extremely dominant as she showed at the SEC Tournament and she’s shown a couple games throughout the season. It’s just that consistency. She’s got great stuff,” Dean said about Handley’s performance.
Among the leaders on the team, senior infielder Kendall Veach knows what it takes to reach the ultimate goal — the College World Series.
The Selma native has dominated her final season on The Plains, spearheading the Tigers offense with a .301 batting average and 20 home runs.
Veach was a part of the 58-win 2016 Auburn team that ultimately fell one win short of a national championship. Regardless, Veach, along with the team’s other seniors, have been in that situation before and know what to expect in the postseason.
“Coming in and going to the World Series and then leaving and going to the World Series, I think that would be special for this group of seniors. That’s what we’re really striving for and you know, since we’ve been there and most of our teammates haven’t, we’re able to share that experience through how we experienced it. I think that pumps them up and gets them ready to go,” Veach said.
As the Tigers prepare for the programs first matchup against the Rams of Colorado State, Dean said the focus is on getting healthy, making adjustments and getting the team hyped up.
“We’re excited. I asked the team, ‘How many of you have played in Arizona before?’ And none of them have, so it’ll be a new experience and that excitement alone gets the adrenaline going a little bit,” he said.