First-Place Tigers Travel to No. 15 South Carolina


First-Place Tigers Travel to No. 15 South Carolina

March 26, 2004

 Action - Kristen Keyes 021304

 Kristen Keyes

AUBURN - The Auburn softball team heads to Columbia, S.C., this weekend for a three-game series with 15th-ranked South Carolina, its first games against a ranked opponent.

The Tigers (23-4, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) stand alone in first place of the SEC while the Gamecocks (17-5, 6-3) are in second in the league's Eastern Division.

"Just the fact that this is a ranked SEC team puts that much more pressure on us," said head coach Tina Deese. "Last year, we saw some of our limitations when playing better teams, but we are a much better team this year. However, the other conference teams are a whole lot better as well."

Auburn is off to the best start in school history and the best start in league history. It is the first time the Tigers have ever been in first place in the SEC standings. That early success has translated into a confidence within the team.

"When it comes right down to it, there is no doubt in my mind and in the players minds that we can be competitive," said Deese. "We know that we are much better than we have ever been and we are carrying that confidence with us onto the field. Our players expectations this year are not just to play with the good teams, but to beat them."

Much of the success can be attributed to Auburn's pitching staff which has a conference-low 0.50 earned-run average. Kristen Keyes is tied for the league lead and Holly Currie is tied for third with ERAs of 0.29 and 0.50. However, the two are tied with South Carolina pitchers Stacey Johnson and Aleca Johnson.

"They have Stacey and Aleca Johnson in the circle. Neither strikes out a lot of batters," said Deese, "but they are both is very effective at inducing ground balls and letting the  defense do the work behind them."

In the past, Auburn has had little success against South Carolina, winning just three of 19 meetings. In fact, the Tigers have never won in Columbia.

"The most significant thing about South Carolina is their (16-3) record against us (all time)," Dees noted. "I'm hoping our players have enough confidence in themselves to know that we can compete with them in every game. We were 1-2 with them last year and have taken a game from them each of the past couple years. But, this year, we need to go in and believe that we can take two games."

The win over the Gamecocks last year marked the last time a Tiger team knocked off a ranked opponent.