After a 2018 season that saw first-year head coach Mickey Dean and the Auburn softball team go 41-17 only to be eliminated in the NCAA tournament regionals, the Tigers go into 2019 with high expectations.
Last Saturday, the team hosted “preview day,” in which an intrasquad scrimmage was played and autographs were signed for fans in attendance. As the season approaches, Dean and his squad look to tune up any last-minute flaws and focus on the opener.
Since the 2018 season ended last May, Dean and his staff have worked tirelessly to make sure the Tigers improve upon last year.
“I think the biggest progress we have made is really finding out who we are as a team and getting to know each other. You know, we did a lot of stuff in the fall, offseason stuff that really wasn’t softball related but just getting to know each other,” he said.
Dean will have a talented roster to work with in 2019 as most from last year’s squad will return. Among the departures are 2018 team batting average leader Victoria Draper, starting catcher Courtney Shea and two-time All-SEC pitcher, Kaylee Carlson.
Also set to leave the program is junior infielder KK Crocker, as the Tuscaloosa native announced last week that she would be transferring from the team. Crocker’s .338 batting average was the best mark among non-everyday starters in 2018.
“I think it’s obviously a shock to some people. In college athletics there’s a lot of competition, a lot of it is healthy competition, but if you can imagine 25 girls in the same room, sometimes the competition heats up,” said senior outfielder Morgan Podany. “Some people just find their happiness at a different place and I think that’s just where she was at on a personal level and not as much a softball level. Obviously, really sad to see her go. The chemistry on the team is really good this year and I’m really excited to be a part of it.”
In 2018, Auburn posted an impressive 29-3 mark at Jane B. Moore Field. On the other hand, the team struggled mightily when not in front of an Auburn crowd as they went 8-9 away from home and 4-5 in neutral-site games — a flaw that Dean and his players intend to correct in the new year.
“One of the biggest things I can think of is just being able to score first. You know, just one run on the board in the first inning usually shuts up the other team and all their fans. Being able to score first and have the same confidence as you do at home will definitely be a key,” said senior infielder Casey McCrackin.
“You’ll notice that our schedule is a little different this year. We’re going on the road and we’re going on the road early because I want us to learn that. We’re going to two tournaments on the road this year and then we’re playing some mid-weeks on the road and that’s on purpose so that we can get confident,” Dean added.
In addition to McCrackin and Podany, the Tigers will feature a lineup that includes sisters Taylon and Tannon Snow, outfielder Alyssa Rivera and preseason All-SEC selection Makayla Martin, who posted a 15-7 record and 1.36 ERA in 31 appearances last season.
The Tigers will open their 2019 season on Feb. 8 at 2 p.m. when they travel to Gulf Shores to play Tennessee State University in the Sand Dollar Classic. They will follow that game up with a 5 p.m. matchup against Western Kentucky before closing out the tournament Saturday against Missouri State at 2 p.m. and Louisiana Tech and 5 p.m.
Despite the departure of talent, a coach still getting into the swing of things with a new program and recent road struggles, the Tigers look to 2019 with optimism.
“I think our chemistry this year is probably the best chemistry I’ve been a part of. That’s why we’re excited to get started and actually play a game. I think everyone hates the word ‘potential’ but we have it. We’re a great team, we have a lot of hard workers and anything can happen in the postseason, so people better watch out,” Podany said with a smile.