By Jeff Shearer
As big as No. 3 Auburn's softball series with No. 1 Florida is -- and it's all caps BIG -- coach Clint Myers is reminding everyone there are still seven more SEC series after this one.
"The true test is going to be at the end of the SEC, not just at the end of the Florida series," Myers said. "It's just that we play Florida in the first game. You're going to have to play them sometime."
The Tigers (22-1) host the two-time defending national champions (24-0) Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 4 p.m. and Monday at 6 p.m. on the SEC Network.
"It's a 24-game schedule in the SEC against quality teams. And we're going to knock each other off. Look at the rankings. We have eight in the top 25. It's a Super Regional every single weekend, and this weekend it's Florida," he said.
The same Gators who ended Auburn's dream season in 2015 in the Women's College World Series semifinals, 3-2 in 9 innings.
"It's going to feel like a Super Regional all over again. We have a bitter taste in our mouth from the World Series. We lost because of the little things," said Kasey Cooper, the two-time reigning SEC Player of the Week. "We know that Florida is a tough competitor, and we're 0-4 the last two years against them. And we want to change that, but we have to play Auburn softball, and we have to come out and produce. Having the crowds out is going to be insane and it's going to be awesome, and it's just going to prepare us for postseason."
"We live for the competition, and there's some fierce competition in the SEC for sure, so I'm excited about that," Carlee Wallace said. "There's just no place like Auburn, and especially our softball program. I think that people have really bought in to believing in us. I think it's going to be a great series. And I think the energy's going to be high. And it's going to be just a fun weekend. We know that the crowd has our back, win or lose. If we're down, they're not going to give up on us."
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) March 11, 2016
Auburn takes a 40-inning scoreless streak into the series. The Tigers rely on five pitchers, a departure from conventional softball strategy in which one ace logs most of the innings.
"Last year we didn't have the choices that we have this year," said Myers, who added freshman Makayla Martin and sophomore transfer Kaylee Carlson to a staff that includes seniors Marcy Harper, Lexi Davis and Rachael Walters.
An entourage, Myers calls it.
"You're going to see all five pitchers this weekend," he said. "The nice thing is, it could be three different starters in all three games, and that's unheard of in the SEC. If we can get that, we've just reduced their reps on any one pitcher tremendously. If we can give them only two looks in a ballgame, some people three, that's pretty darn good pitching."
"If somebody's having a bad day, there's always somebody else to pick them up," Harper said. "It's a lot more competitive because you have two more people pushing the three who were here."
Martin, 5-0 with a 0.41 ERA, will get the ball in game one.
"I'm really excited that I have this opportunity to start out the SEC series against Florida," she said. "It's what we've all been working far. And I'm just glad that I have the chance to show out."
Martin has struck out 34 batters in 34 innings.
"She has been lights out," Myers said. "She's a freshman. She's going to have to pitch sometime. So why not just let her go the first one? National television. 7:30 at night. 2,500 people. Let's see what she can do."
"Put your big girl pants on and get ready," Cooper said. "Enjoy the moment. I remember in the World Series and the SECs, we would come out of the dugout, and just put our hands up and say, `How loud can you get?' It's just a great feeling, and for them to be able to experience it for the first time, it's going to be a great feeling for them. And it's something it'll always carry with you."
-- Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) March 10, 2016
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer