Auburn Softball vs Samford and Gardner-Webb Preview

AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM
AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM

AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM

Auburn Softball vs Samford and Gardner-Webb Preview

Feb. 24 vs. Samford at 6 p.m.

Feb. 25 vs. Gardner-Webb at 6 p.m. (DH)

Auburn softball coach Tina Deese previewing this week's midweek games with Samford and Gardner-Webb (DH)

On playing against in-state rival Samford

"We feel good about the way we played this past weekend in San Diego. Samford is always tough game for us. This game means a lot to them and they will come out ready to play. We need to be on the top of our game with some emotion as well. I feel like the players will be up for it after losing to them last year."

On having three pitchers throwing well

"It is a really good feeling to know we can go into three games this week and throw three different pitchers so we don't wear anyone down. It is nice to know whoever we go with, we have someone solid on the mound. We also know that our defense will be tough behind them as well. But, we still know we will have to score some runs to win, hopefully not many."

On scoring runs early

"It's great for our pitching staff to have some cushion when they're out there, especially for the freshmen. I think what we need to work on most is to finish the job after we get that quick lead. That is what is concerning me most and it's something we have to get worked out before we get into conference play."

Tigers HOPE TO BUILD ON GREAT START

The Auburn softball team is off to the best start in school history at 14-3 and will look to build on that on Tuesday and Wednesday when it hosts Samford and Gardner-Webb, respectively. The Tigers are coming off a 2-1 weekend in the Campbell/Cartier Classic at San Diego. Sara Dean hit .500 on the weekend and drove in the game-winning run against host San Diego State. She also had a 3-for-4 performance with three RBIs in Auburn's come-from-behind win over Sacramento State. Kristen Keyes has been hot in the circle, not allowing an earned run in 22 innings and striking out 36 batters since her last walk.

Tigers Off to Best Start in School History

At 14-3, Auburn is off to the best start in school history. The 2002 squad had the previous best at 13-4 en route to a 38-27 overall record. That year, the Tigers earned the only NCAA Tournament berth in school history. Auburn will look to continue hot streak this week with a game against Samford before doubleheaders with Gardner-Webb and Birmingham-Southern.

As part of the quick start, Auburn had a seven-game win streak which was the second longest in school history. It trailed only the nine-game streak that opened the 2002 season.

Keyes Nears 500th career Strikeout

Kristen Keyes has been an intimidating presence in the circle since she arrived at Auburn. In her two years, she has amassed 490 career strikeouts in 451.2 innings. With 10 more Ks, she will become the first Auburn player to reach the 500 career strikeout plateau.

She already owns the Auburn career mark as she broke Denise Montalvo's record with her 342nd strikeout. So far this year, Keyes has struck out 83 batters in just 58.0 innings pitched.

More On KK, the K artist

Kristen Keyes is averaging 8.4 strikeouts per start and has a season high of 14 in a six-inning effort against Cal State-Northridge. At one point between the UAB game and the Northridge contest, she recorded 14 straight outs via strikeout and 19-of-21.

She is striking out at least one batter in better than 68 percent of her innings pitched and two or more in 42 percent of them. She has struck out at least one batter in 18 straight innings and has 36 strikeouts since her last walk.

Dean Terrorizing Opponent Pitching

Junior catcher Sara Dean broke out at the plate at the Getterman Classic at Baylor from Feb. 6-8 and has continued to terrorize opponent pitching. In Waco, she hit .500 with three home runs and a pair of doubles while driving in five. If you throw out the Alabama State game, in which she had only one at-bat, Dean is hitting .500 since the Getterman Classic. In her last nine games, she is 14-of-28 with five doubles, a homer and eight RBIs.

More impressively is the timelyness with which Dean gets her hits. She is 11-for-19 with runners in scoring position and 12-of-23 with two outs. She has nine two-out RBIs. All four of her RBIs in the Campbell/Cartier Classic came with two outs, including her game-winning RBI against San Diego State.

Wins Come Late For Opponents

Auburn's three opponents who have come away with victories so far this season have had a bit of good fortune. All three Tiger losses have come in the opponent's final at bat with two of those being the beneficiary of Tiger errors in the inning.

Against Baylor, Auburn fell in extra-innings in the international tiebreaker rule. Against Pacific, the Tigers commited one error in the seventh and hit a batter to force home the winning run. Two errors in the seventh led to two runs for Cal State-Northridge in its 3-2 win over Auburn.

Currie Spells Double Trouble for Opponents

Freshman Holly Currie has proven to be a threat both in the circle and at the plate this year. The Pisgah, Ala., native is 4-0 with a 0.86 earned-run average in five starts. She has 33 strikeouts in 26.0 innings and is allowing opponents to bat just .148 off her.

At the plate, Currie currently bats clean up and is hitting .342 with four doubles and a pair of home runs. Her nine RBIs and .605 slugging percentage each rank third on the squad.

Quick Strikes

Auburn has started the year by starting quickly on its opponents. The Tigers have scored in the first or second inning of 12 of

17 games so far, including eight times in the first inning. In the

first three innings of games, the Tigers are outscoring their opponent 50-7. The early scoring has led to Auburn trailing at the end of an inning just twice this season, to UAB and Sacramento State. The Tigers came back to win both games.

No Hitting Tiger Pitching

Hitting Auburn's pitching this year is proving to be very tough for opponents. The Tigers have not allowed any team to get more than six hits in a game and have held 10 of 17 opponents to three or fewer hits. Auburn is allowing its opponents to hit just .146 so far led by Kristen Keyes' .122 clip. The Tigers other two starters also keep opponents below the Mendoza line at as Holly Currie and Beth DiPietro allow .148 and .191 averages, respectively.

Even when opponents do get that rare hit, it doesn't get them very far. Only 16 hits off Auburn pitchers have been for extra bases with none being home runs.

Eyes Of the Tigers

One key to Auburn's success this year at the plate has been patience. Tiger batters have drawn 54 walks to go with their 54 strikeouts. Freshmen Sara Ghezzi and Kristina McCain lead the way with 10 and eight walks, respectively. The ability to draw a walk has translated into a .394 team on-base percentage for Auburn.

Tigers Steal Bases, Opponents Get Caught

Auburn has become a prolific team on the base paths this season. So far, the Tigers have 39 stolen bases, which tops in the Southeastern Conference. Seven players have at least three steals, led by Shannon Anderson's 10. Lauren Walton has six while Sara Dean has five.

The stealing has led to scoring success for Auburn as 67.6 percent of the time a stolen base has led to that player scoring in the inning. Ashley Griffin has been the best at turning a steal into a run with all four of her stolen bases ending in a run scored.

On the opposite side, Auburn is also one of the best in the conference at throwing out potential base stealers. The Tigers have caught eight runners stealing (of 13), which is the second best best mark in the league to Arkansas' nine (of 23). Auburn and South Carolina (thrown out three of four) are the only team in the league that throws out better than 50 percent of base stealers.

Dean Spectacular Behind The Plate

Coming into this season Sara Dean had only played catcher in four games. However, she has been spectacular defensively behind the plate. Dean has thrown out eight of 13 would be base stealers as well as picking off another. She has not allowed a passed ball yet and has only let four wild pitch get by her. She also has only one error in 153 attempts.

Leadoff Success

Auburn has been wildly successful at getting the leadoff runner on base this year. Through 13 games, the Tigers on-base percentage from the leadoff position is .438 (46-of-105). Beth DiPietro has been particularly impressive, getting on at an .871 rate when leading off.

The success in getting the leadoff runner on has translated into runs for Auburn. In 46 innings this year where the leadoff runner has reached, Auburn has scored in 27 of them for a 58.7 percent conversion rate.

DiPietro Rebounds From Tough Outing

On Feb. 17, freshman Beth DiPietro was roughed up for three runs in just one-third of an inning in her start against UAB. However, the Riverview, Fla., native rebounded spectacularly from the performance by hurling a four-hit shutout against San Diego State four days later. She struck out six and walked just one to earn her first career shutout in Auburn's 1-0 win.

Freshmen are Key Contributors

This year's highly touted freshman class has not disappointed thus far in the young season. Five freshmen have started a combined 60 games this season while right fielder Sara Ghezzi has started all 17.

In the circle, Holly Currie and Beth DiPietro have combined to go 7-0 and earn two saves. The two are also solid at the plate with Currie is hitting .342 with two home runs and nine RBIs. DiPietro, who also plays in left field is batting .273 with a trio of doubles.

Third baseman Kristina McCain, who has started 15 games, and Walton are not far behind. McCain is hitting .244 while Walton is at a .259 clip. McCain had a team season high with four hits against Wichita State on Feb. 7.

Keyes Nearly Perfect

Kristen Keyes entered the UAB game with only one batter retired in the first inning. After an errant pickoff play by the catcher allowed two runners to score while Keyes was facing her first batter, she was perfect. She retired all 20 batters she faced, 13 by strikeout. She now has pitched 6.2 consecutive perfect innings and has a scoreless streak of 11.2 innings.

Anderson At It Again

Auburn career learder for stolen bases, Shannon Anderson, is already in midseason form. The Laguna Niguel, Calif., native tied a school record by swiping three bases against Illinois State on Jan. 30. She has 10 stolen bases so far this year.

Anderson took over the Auburn career stolen base lead against LSU on April 26 last year by stealing her 38th base. In 2002, she stole 21 bases to set the school single-season record.

Magic Number Five

Auburn's magic number since the beginning of the 2003 season seems to be five. The Tigers are 35-14 since then when reaching 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. They have won all nine games this year when hitting five runs. The last time Auburn lost when scoring five runs was on April 27, 2002, when it fell to Kentucky, 8-5.

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 among the career and single season leaders. 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.

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. Here is a look at how some softball pitch speeds translate to a baseball pitch:

Pitch Speed (43 ft.) Baseball Equivalent (60 ft. 6 in.)

60 84

62 87

64 90

66 93

68 96

70 98

Keyes sets new Auburn Career Wins Mark

Senior Kristen Keyes broke the Auburn record for career wins on Feb. 13 when she earned the victory in Auburn's 7-0 win over Evansville. She entered the game in the fourth inning and pitched four scoreless innings to earn the victory.

Keyes also owns Auburn career marks for innings pitched, saves, strikeouts, earned-run average and batting average against.

Auburn wins Tiger Invitational

Auburn won its third consecutive Tiger Invitational championship by going 5-0 in the tournament that included Furman, Evansville and Austin Peay. The Tigers beat Evansville, 8-0, in the tournament final. Auburn won all three of its round robin games before knocking off Furman in the first round of braket play. The Tigers outscored their opponents 33-4 in the five games.

Deese gets 500th career win

Auburn head coach Tina Deese picked up her 500th career win on Feb. 13 when Auburn beat Austin Peay 6-2. Deese notched her first 286 wins at Huntingdon College in Montgomery before winning 214 at Auburn in her first seven-plus seasons. She is in her 16th year of coaching overall.

The Newcomers

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. Here is a list of newcomers and their major accolades:

Lolani Alvarez (transfer) Easton first-team All-America

Co-MVP of Orange Empire Conference

Holly Currie Miss Softball of Alabama

Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year

two-time All-America

featured in Sports Illustrated (9/1/03)

Beth DiPietro Florida Gatorade Player of the Year

FHSAA State Player of the Year

Student Sports first-team All-America

two-time Miss Softball of Florida runner up

featured in Sports Illustrated (3/18/02)

Sara Ghezzi NFCA second-team All-America

NFCA first-team All-South Region

Lauren Walton NFCA second-team All-America

NFCA first-team All-South Region (2003)

NFCA second-team All-South Region (2002)

Tough Slate

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.