By Harrison Tarr
For the Observer
Prior to the start of the 2022 season, the Auburn Softball was projected — by more than one outlet — to win five or fewer games in conference play and finish 12th in the SEC. Fan and experts alike certainly had reason for doubt; the Tigers were clearly going to rely on a slew of freshmen and had to work through injuries in the circle.
Auburn posted an overall record of 39-15 through the completion of the SEC tournament and found a way to go 11-13 within the SEC, sufficient for 10th place in the conference and a No. 17 overall ranking in college softball nationally. Freshmen have stepped up in big ways, the Tiger pitching staff has continued to bring their best stuff on a nightly basis and there’s a tangible sense of optimism within the fanbase as the orange and blue prepare to travel to Clemson, South Carolina, in the regional round of the NCAA tournament.
Here’s why Auburn fans should allow themselves to get their hopes up as their beloved softball team heads to battle this postseason:
The Tiger pitching rotation is unreal.
Maddie Penta, Shelby Lowe and KK Dismukes have pitched out of their minds this year. The trio has accounted for all but 11 innings in the circle for Auburn throughout 2022, combining for 436 strikeouts, 18 complete games and a collaborative ERA of 2.42. Assuming Auburn can keep its entire staff healthy, run manufacturing will likely be less pressing than it might be otherwise. The Tiger pitching has kept opponents at bay to this point in the year, there’s no reason to believe that will discontinue.
Hits have been abundant throughout the order.
When tasked with the responsibility of constructing a batting order which suffices for consistent run manufacturing, managers often find themselves racking their brains over where to plug players in; that simply could not have been the case for Mickey Dean in 2022. Auburn’s lineup has refused to present an easy out — from top to bottom — all year. The Tigers are hitting to a .303 team average, .952 OPS and are outscoring opponents 335-162.
Auburn digs the long ball.
Not only has Auburn not struggled to put the ball in play throughout this year’s campaign, the group has had no problem sending softballs out of the ballpark. The Tigers have blasted 84 home runs in just 54 games, placing themselves at No. 13 in the country when it comes to the long ball. Behind the power bats of Bri Ellis, Nelia Peralta, Aspyn Godwin and Makalya Packer, it’s difficult to envision Auburn struggling in forcing opponents to respect its plate approach.
Dean knows how to get through to this group.
The 2022 Tigers have experienced an emotional rollercoaster; this group has been on winning streaks that lasted 16 games but closed out its seasonon a four-game losing skid. As in all seasons for all teams, there were ups and downs spread relatively evenly throughout the year; one thing remained constant: Dean’s ability to reel his group back in when things were not going as planned. Sure, there were a handful of two or three game skids mixed in. There were no stretches of extensive losses with no sign of life from Auburn. Dean is capable of preparing this young group for the postseason.
Auburn wasn’t even supposed to make the postseason in 2022.
Playoffs at any level are a captivating time. There’s always favorites and longshots, great triumphs and devastating upsets; Auburn softball might not mold into any of those roles this year. This group exceeded all expectations — maybe even those they might have set for themselves — and are now placed in the smack middle of competition for a chance at the big dance. There is certainly an element of ‘why not us?’