Coach Tina Deese previewing Diamond Fun and Sun Classic, hosted by Florida International, in Miami, Fla., from Jan. 30-Feb. 1.
On the preseason
"I think preparation has gone very well. We've been able to, in the past couple of weeks, have some good weather practice with. We look good so far. The pitchers look good. The defense looks strong. We still have some questionable areas, but I believe after this weekend we'll know exactly where we are. It will be great for us to get playing so we can better evaluate ourselves."
On expectations for the tournament
"My expectations are to go in and win the tournament. We always expect to win every time we play. But, we'll see how well we've prepared in order to do that."
On the importance of getting off to a good start
"It is very important for several of our players to get off to a good start and for us to get off to a good start as a team. I think we're going to need Lindsey Chitwood to do well early. I think it's key for Sara Dean to start the season well because I think this is the year she really breaks out. This could be her year. And we need Martha Phillips off to a good start so she can get her confidence going early."
On freshmen playing their first games
"It's always nerve-racking for freshmen playing for the first time. It will be especially so for Lauren Walton and Sara Ghezzi, playing their first games in front of the home crowd. There will always be nervousness for the freshmen, so it's important for them to get comfortable early and be able to just play."
Tigers Open Season in Diamond Fun & Sun Classic
The Auburn Softball team will open the 2004 campaign in the Diamond Fun & Sun Classic at Miami. The tournament, hosted by Florida International, will feature Auburn, Florida A&M, Illinois State, Kentucky and the Golden Panthers. The Tigers are coming off a 26-31 season and are just one year removed from reaching the NCAA Tournament. It is the second time in three years Auburn has traveled to FIU to play,
having gone 3-2 in the Golden Panther Classic in 2002.
Oh Captain, My Captain
This year's team captains are senior Lindsey Chitwood and junior Sara Dean. Chitwood, a senior from Chandler, Ariz., has started 126 games in her career and is versatile enough to play second base,
shortstop and third base. Dean, a Valencia, Calif., native, was the 2002 SEC Freshman of the Year. She has started 116 games in her career and carries a .271 career batting average.
Season Opening Tournament
For the third straight year, the Auburn softball team will begin the season with a tournament. Last year, the Tigers traveled to Tampa, Fla., for the USF-Louisville Slugger Classic and finished 2-3. In 2001,
Auburn hosted the Tiger Invitational to begin the year and won the tournament with a perfect 5-0 mark.
The Jan. 30 date to open the season marks the earliest the Auburn softball program has ever played a game. Last season, the Tigers opened the year with a double header on Jan. 31 to mark the program's
only other games in January. Auburn's game with Florida A&M, which opens the Diamond Fun & Sun Classic, is believed to be the first game of the 2004 NCAA season.
Auburn returns the nucleus from the 2003 squad that finished 26-31 overall and 13-16 in the SEC. The Tigers return seven position starters who accounted for 68.5 percent of the team's hits and 63.3 percent of the team's runs from last year. However, only Kristen Keyes returns from the pitching staff. She accounted for 46.2 percent of the pitching victories and 56.3 percent of the strikeouts last year.
Auburn's recruiting class for the 2004 season is the most highly decorated in school history. Among the group is one Miss Softball, two Gatorade State Players of the Year, four high school All-Americans and one college All-American. Two of the newcomers have also been featured in Sports Illustrated for their accomplishments in high school.
Auburn's 2004 schedule will be no picnic. The Tigers slate includes six teams that rank in the ESPN.com/USA Softball preseason poll. It also has four teams that are receiving votes in the poll.
The schedule features 11 teams that made the NCAA Tournament in 2004 including Women's College World Series participants Alabama and Washington. The SEC slate will feature six series against teams that made an NCAA Regional in 2004.
Tigers Accustomed to Quick Starts
In seven years, the Auburn softball team has opened the season 2-0 on six occasions. In fact, last year was the only time the Tigers have failed to start a season 2-0, going 1-1 in their opening pair.
Three times, Auburn began the year 4-0 (2000, 2001, 2002). Two seasons ago, the Tigers got off to their best start at 9-0 en route to a 38-27 season and a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Deese Nears 500 career wins
Auburn head coach Tina Deese is eight wins shy of picking up her 500th career win in her 16th year of coaching. Deese enters the season with 492 career wins, 206 of which have come in the past seven years at Auburn.
The Record Breaker
Freshman pitcher Holly Currie has had a knack for breaking records in her softball career. By scrolling through the Alabama High School Fastpitch Softball record book, you will find the Pisgah, Ala.,
native's name 49 times. She holds eight Alabama high school single-season records and 12 career records.
Her records come both in the circle and at the plate. She owns career batting records for hits, doubles, home runs, runs batted in, runs scored and walks. She also ranks second in state history in triples
and third in batting average. Her career pitching marks are for wins, innings, strikeouts, earned-run average, shutouts and no-hitters.
Currie's career RBI record came at the expense of current teammate Paige Jones. Currie also stopped Jones bid for the single-season RBI record in 2000 when she drove in 80 runs to Jones' 79. Two years later, Currie set a new mark of 85 RBI, which still stands.
Auburn played in 17 one-run games in 2003 and posted a 10-7 record. The Tigers were 7-2 in nine extra inning games and, at one point, won six straight games that went past regulation. Last year's success in close games is a big turn around from the two years prior, when Auburn was 12-23 in one-run games.
Magic Number Five
Auburn's magic number in the 2003 season was five. The Tigers were 23-12 on the year when reaching five hits. At one point, they won eight straight games when getting to five hits. Auburn was even better when scoring at least five runs. The Tigers hit the five-run plateau in 11 games in 2003 and won all 11.
Keyes to Victory
As Kristen Keyes goes, Auburn goes. At least that's the way it was in 2003. Keyes was the pitcher of record in 28 games last year, including 11 of the final 12. She even started the final four games of
the season for the Tigers. Once conference play began, Keyes earned the decision in 22 of Auburn's final 33 games.
Anderson Steals Record
In just her sophomore season, Shannon Anderson took over the Auburn career stolen base lead. Against LSU on April 26, she swiped her 38th base, moving her past Chris Steiner for the record. She finished
the season with 40 career stolen bases, including 19 for the year. In 2002, she stole 21 bases to set the school single-season record. The 19 steals is tied for second best in a single season in school annals.
Ashley Griffin belted 17 doubles in 2003, tying her for fourth in the conference. She held the conference lead in the category for much of the season, but failed to hit a two-bagger in her final seven games
to drop to fourth. The 17 doubles also tied her for the third most doubles in a season in school annals.
Kristen Keyes has been an intimidating presence in the circle since she arrived at Auburn. In her two years, she has amassed 407 strikeouts while pitching in just 393.2 innings. Last season, she broke
Denise Montalvo's career record when with her 342nd career strikeout.
Jones Makes at Bats Count
Despite starting just 24 games in 2003 and having 85 plate appearances, Paige Jones tied for the team lead in RBIs with 18. Jones batted just .179 with 14 hits, but four of those were home runs. She averaged an RBI every 4.3 at bats last season and has gotten a runner home once every 4.6 at bats for her career.
No Coming Back on Tigers
In 2003, Auburn made a habit of holding a lead. When the Tigers held the lead after five innings they were unbeatable, going 19-0.
However, Auburn was just as ineffective as its opponents at coming back. The Tigers were 1-27 when trailing after five innings.
On the Radar Gun
Auburn's 1-2 punch in the circle of Kristen Keyes and Holly Currie is a powerful one. Both hurlers are known for power pitching and can throw some serious heat. Keyes has been clocked at 66 miles per hour
with her fastball while the freshman Currie can hit 68 mph. Those numbers are the equivalent to a baseball pitcher throwing 93 and 96 mph, respectively.
Scoring First Equals Success
Last season, Auburn proved that the team that scores first will likely score the most. The Tigers were 23-4 in games they scored first while notching just a 3-27 record when the opponent scored first.
Rief Goes to ESPN
Auburn assistant coach Amy Reif will be leaving the Tigers following this weekend's tournament. Reif, who earned a communications degree from Auburn, has taken a producing job with ESPN, where she will
work as an in-studio producer.
Reif was a member of Auburn's first three softball teams and was entering her fifth season as an assistant with the team. She has been a member of the Auburn softball family since the program's inception prior to the 1997 season.
The 2004 Auburn team will be featured on and broadcast on WELL 88.7-FM throughout the year. Games can also be heard on Auburn's official website, www.auburntigers.com. The Tigers will play 37 games this year that will be aired, including the entire SEC schedule. Every Auburn non-conference home game will be aired as well as non-conference road games within the state of Alabama.