April 3, 2014
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The No. 19 Auburn softball team finishes up its seven-game road swing this weekend as it travels to Gainesville, Fla., to take on the No. 6 Florida Gators in a three-game Southeastern Conference series. The Tigers are coming off its third-straight conference series win, taking two of three from the then-10th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats, Auburn's first top-ten series win on the road in school history.
Friday's game with the Gators is set for a 5 p.m. CST at Katie Seashole Pressley Stadium, while Saturday's game will be televised on ESPNU with first pitch scheduled for 4 p.m. CST. The weekend will conclude on Sunday with a 12 p.m. CST start.
"They (Kentucky) are a good ball club," Auburn head coach Clint Myers said. "They were ranked 10th in the country for a reason. They've got good pitching, they've got great hitters, and a good defense. They made a couple mistakes and we made them pay. Those were big things for us as well. We were pretty excited. We feel bad that we let the third one slip away because we had that one. You have to get better, yes, but that is true for all of us. The coaching is going to get better, the players are going to get better. You have to find yourselves and be able to adjust to make the plays necessary and make the pitches necessary and make the contact necessary to win."
Auburn got 7-6 and 6-4 wins in the first two games of the series with the Wildcats, much of its offense coming off the bat of sophomore Jade Rhodes. Over the three-game series with Kentucky including the mid-week matchup with Georgia State, Rhodes tallied four hits with 10 RBI and two home runs. Both home runs came by the way of grand slams, giving her three grand slams for the year.
Rhodes is now batting .269 for the season with 41 RBI and six home runs. Her RBI total is third on the team behind freshman Kasey Cooper and junior Branndi Melero, but is also the third-highest total in the conference.
"Jade (Rhodes) has really come through for us," Myers said. "She hit her third grand slam of the season, she hit one on Georgia State. It was unusual but she came up three times in that game with the bases loaded and she really came through for us big on the first one. Credit to her, she is working really, really hard with Casey (Myers) to understand her stroke, to understand her mindset, and to really develop a good sound plan. She went up there in a clutch situation and not with a big swing. Jade was pretty happy, we were pretty happy."
Rhodes rounds out the top-five batters in the Auburn lineup that have been stellar since the start of conference play. The top half of the Tiger lineup has batted .391 as a unit in 2014 with 34 home runs and 204. That means that the top-five Auburn batters this season have amounted for 67 percent of this season's RBIs.
Cooper and Melero have continued to hit well and set the pace for the Tigers over the last few weeks. Both lead the team and the conference in RBI with 56 and 55 RBI, respectively and are two of the only three Auburn players to be hitting .400 or higher at this point in the season. Sophomore Emily Carosone is the only other Auburn batter with a plus-.400 average (.418).
In the circle, the Auburn pitching staff has continued to lean on sophomores Marcy Harper and Lexi Davis. Both pitchers saw the circle last week for two starts, each winning at least one, while Davis came away from the week 2-0, winning both games against Kentucky to push her record to 16-5. Harper suffered her first loss of the year on Sunday against the Wildcats, dropping a tough complete-game, 2-1 decision. Harper is now 14-1 on the year with a 2.86 ERA and 98 strikeouts.
Davis has garnered wins in nine of her last 10 appearances and has built up a 2.28 ERA to lead the staff with 109 strikeouts.
"Communication is huge with us, but we have explained to them that in the fall we teach and in the spring we refine," Myers said. "Now they are starting to understand what we are talking about with refinement. It is not big wholesale changes in any physical aspect, it is more of how do I approach this, what do I need to do, how can I let go of something negative. Like I said, they are starting to learn these things and it is evident with the ability to go out and play and beat a club like Kentucky. We could not have done that back in February and we are moving in the right direction. We are going to have a real good test with the remainder of the season."
Friday's first pitch at Katie Seashole Pressley Stadium in Gainesville is set for 5 p.m. CST. Saturday's game is set for 4 p.m. CST and will be televised on ESPNU with Pam Ward and Michelle Smith on the call. Sunday's game has first pitch slated at Noon CST.
All games this weekend can be heard locally on WEGL 91.1 or online at AuburnTigers.com with Kasey Langley on the air. Live stats will also be available on AuburnTigers.com throughout the weekend.
For more information on Auburn softball, visit AuburnTigers.com, follow the team on Twitter @AuburnTigersSB or follow them on Facebook at Facebook.com/AuburnSB