Auburn Softball vs Alabama Preview
AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM
AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM

AUBURNTIGERSDOTCOM

Auburn Softball vs Alabama Preview

Tuesday, April 20 at 5 p.m. (DH)
Wednesday, April 21 at 3 p.m.
Game Promotions

Auburn head softball coach Tina Deese previews the series against Alabama

On the rivalry

"Every year it's the biggest series of the year for us. The players are always low maintenance for me this time of year. They are excited, they're eager, they're hungry. It's always that way for Alabama, but especially this year. They have a little more energy to them right now and and are really pumped for this series."

On playing Alabama while having such a successful season

"It's different for us this year because in the past we've gone into this series with everything to gain and nothing to lose. To a degree, that's true this year also. But we know we can compete with them and we still have Alabama and LSU left, so we can still make a run at the SEC title."

About Alabama's team

"Alabama has a great pitching staff. They have three good pitchers who throw the ball hard and mix it up a lot. They are very strong on offense. You have to watch out for (Jackie) McClain, Ashley Courtney, (Dominque) Accetturo and, of course, (Stephanie) VanBrakle. Those four can really, really hurt you. They bring a lot of offense to the table, but we feel like we'll have good pitching going against it."

On players from Alabama

"We a lot of kids who take the Alabama series very seriously because they are from the state. Martha Phillips, Kristina McCain, Holly Currie and Paige Jones are all from here and will play big roles for us this weekend. Paige has been very successful against Alabama in the past and always look forward to that challenge."

Auburn senior Martha Phillips, a Montgomery native, on the series "This year, with me being a senior, the series with Alabama means everything to me. I grew up a Auburn fan so this series has always been big. But, right now, it means the world to me."

Game Notes vs. Alabama

Tigers Host Arch-Rival Crimson Tide

The 22nd-ranked Auburn softball team wraps up its six-game homestand this week as it hosts arch-rival Alabama in a three-game set at Jane B. Moore Field. The Tigers are riding high after taking two of three from No. 7 Georgia this past weekend. It is the first time in school history Auburn has won a series against a top 10 team. Meanwhile, Alabama is fresh off a 2-1 series win over South Carolina. The two teams are also battling each other for second place in the Southeastern Conference Western Division right now. The Crimson Tide currently hold a half-game lead for the position.

Auburn Ranked for Three Consecutive Weeks

On March 16, the 2004 Auburn softball team made history. On that day, the Tigers recieved the first ranking in school history from the ESPN.com/USA Softball Poll. Auburn came in at No. 25 after receiving votes for four weeks prior to that. Since then, the Tigers have fallen from the ranks only to bounce back and earn a top 25 spot for three straight weeks. Currently, Auburn is No. 22 in the NFCA/USA Today poll and No. 25 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll.

Tigers in Midst of Most Successful Season Ever

At 30-10, Auburn is in the midst of the best season in school history. Previously, the best record by a Tiger team through 43 games was in 2002 when Auburn was 26-17 en route to a 38-27 finish ane earned the only NCAA Tournament berth in school history.

Auburn is also enjoying the more success than it ever has in SEC play. At 13-8, the Tigers have a winning record after 20 conference games for the second time in school history (1997).

The Iron Diamond

Each November, much is made of the storied Auburn-Alabama rivalry in football. Just like on the Gridiron, the Tigers and Crimson Tide have had their share of battles on the softball diamond. Alabama, which has been one of the top programs in the nation for the past few years, holds the overall advantage in the series, 17-9. However, Auburn points to the 2002 series against Alabama as the high-water mark of the program.

That season, the Crimson Tide entered the series 22-5 in the SEC and ranked 15th in the nation. Unintimiated, Auburn took all three games to enhance its NCAA Tournament resume as the Tigers reached 15-15 in the SEC and made the Big Dance.

Alabama returned the favor with a sweep last year and another victory over Auburn in the SEC Tournament. It was the third straight year the Tide beat the Tigers in the tournament.

Auburn Gets First Series Win Over Top 10 Team

This past weekend, Auburn scored its first series victory over a top 10 team in school history. The victim was No. 7 Georgia, which fell in games one and three, 1-0 and 4-2, respectively. The Bulldogs did manage to pull out the middle game, a 5-3 come-from-behind victory, with a four-run seventh. Prior to taking the series off Georgia, Auburn was 0-4 in series against top 10 teams and had won just four games against top 10 foes in its history.

Against the Ranks

Auburn will square off with its fifth ranked opponent in the past six series this weekend when it meets No. 13 Alabama. Auburn is 6-6 against ranked foes on the season, including 2-1 at home.

Auburn has not fared well in its history against ranked teams The Tigers are 20-88-1 all time against ranked foes. The Tigers have won just three SEC series against a ranked team, going 3-16-1 in them. However, this year has been Auburn's most successful against the nation's best teams as the Tigers have two series wins against ranked SEC teams. Here is a look at how Auburn has fared against the ranks in 2004:

Date AU Opp. Opponent Result POR*

March 27 RV 15 at South Carolina W, 1-0 Keyes

March 27 RV 15 at South Carolina W, 5-1 Currie

March 28 RV 15 at South Carolina W, 6-5 Keyes

March 30 RV 19 at Florida L, 2-1 Keyes

March 30 RV 19 at Florida L, 3-0 Currie

March 31 22 17 at Florida L, 11-3 Keyes

April 9 23 12 at Tennessee L, 3-0 DiPietro

April 9 23 12 at Tennessee W, 5-1 Keyes

April 10 23 12 at Tennessee L, 4-0 Keyes

April 17 22 7 Georgia W, 1-0 Keyes

April 17 22 7 Georgia L, 5-3 DiPietro

April 18 22 7 Georgia W, 4-2 Keyes

* denotes Auburn's pitcher of record in the game

Tough Stretch

After not facing a ranked opponent in its first 27 games, Auburn's schedule has become increasingly difficult. Of the Tigers past 16 games, 12 have been against ranked foes while the next six are as well. Auburn is currently in a stretch where four straight three-game series come against top 15 teams. Once the regular season ends, Auburn will have played 20 of its final 27 games against teams ranked in the top 20.

Hell Week

During the nine-day stretch from from April 17-25, Auburn face its toughest tests of the season. The Tigers have a trio of three-game series in that span against No. 3 LSU, No. 7 Georgia and No. 13 Alabama.

The three teams represent the power structure of the SEC. LSU has long been the league's most successful program while Alabama has been to a College World Series. Georgia is the defending SEC champion.

Defensive Prowess

The saying goes "Defense Wins Championships." If that's the case, then Auburn is in good shape. The Tigers rank third in the SEC in fielding percentage at .973 and have been even better in conference games, ranking second a .975 percentage. The Tigers .973 mark ranks eighth in the nation.

Auburn has committed an error in just seven their last 13 games. The Tigers also had a six-game errorless streak earlier this year, which is twice as long as any streak from last year. It beats out two five-game streaks from 2002 for the longest in school history.

McCain Gets it Done From Leadoff Spot

This past weekend against No. 7 Georgia, true freshman Kristina McCain was moved to the leadoff position in the lineup for the first time. She responded by reaching base in 7-of-10 plate appearances and scoring four runs. In the series finale, she turned three walks into runs as she scored three of Auburn's four in the 4-2 win.

KK, the K artist

Kristen Keyes is averaging 9.5 strikeouts per seven innings and has a season high of 14 three times this year. In the latest NCAA statistics leaders, Keyes ranked 11th in strikeouts per seven. She has struck out at least 10 batters 10 times. At one point between the UAB game and the Cal-State Northridge contest, she recorded 14 straight outs via strikeout and 19-of-21.

Keyes is striking out at least one batter in nearly 75 percent of her innings pitched and two or more in almost 40 percent of them. Earlier this year, she had a streak of at least one strike out in 30 consecutive innings and a streak of 44 strikeouts without allowing a walk.

Dean's Consistent at Plate

Sara Dean has been one of the most consistent hitters in the SEC this year. The Valencia, Calif., native has a hit in 34 of Auburn's 43 games and recently had a 15-game hitting streak. The streak is the second longest in the conference this year.

Currently, Dean has a .416 batting average which is third best in the league. Earlier this year, she had a streak of not sriking out in 68 consecutive at bats.

Phillips Gets Into Groove

After struggling for much of the season, senior Martha Phillips was taken out of the lineup for a game against Florida before returning to the lineup in the seventh spot -- a place she had never been in the lineup. Phillips has responded, as evident by her performance in the past three series. She has three extra-base hits and a team best six RBIs in the last nine games.

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 8-1 with a 1.92 earned-run average in 16 appearances. She has 75 strikeouts in 69.1 innings and is allowing opponents to bat just .182 off her. She has thrown a pair of one-hitters this year as well.

At the plate, Currie bats clean up and is hitting .308 with eight doubles and three home runs. Her .467 slugging percentage and 19 RBIs rank third on the team.

Freshmen are Key Contributors

This year's highly touted freshman class has not disappointed thus far this season. Five freshmen have started a combined 176 games this season while freshman right fielder Sara Ghezzi has started all 43. Ghezzi is batting .248 on the year with two game-winning hits (Sacramento State, Arkansas).

In the circle, Holly Currie and Beth DiPietro have combined to go 13-3 and earn three saves. Currie also bats cleanup and is hitting .308 with 11 extra-base hits and 19 RBIs.

Third baseman Kristina McCain and Lauren Walton, who have started 41 games each, have been solid as well. McCain is hitting .264 and has drawn a team-high 21 walks. Walton hits at a .215 clip from the ninth spot. McCain had a team-season high with four hits against Wichita State on Feb. 7.

Ghezzi Steps it Up in SEC Play

If freshman Sara Ghezzi is intimidated by SEC pitchers, she sure doesn't show it. The Miami, Fla., native is batting .286 in conference action, 82 points better than the .204 she hit in non-conference contests. Of her six extra-base hits this year, five have come in league games, including her first career home run at Tennessee on April 9. She also drove in the game-winning run in the ninth inning in a 1-0 Auburn win at Arkansas.

McCain Plays it Cool at the Hot Corner

Kristina McCain may look like a veteran at while playing third base, but the true freshman is playing the position for the first time in her entire softball career this season. She routinely makes the tough plays look easy and has committed just four errors all year.

McCain ranks second in the conference in fielding percentage for third sackers with a .963 clip. That mark is also the best in SEC history for a freshman third baseman and fifth overall.

Anderson At It Again

Auburn's career leader for stolen bases, Shannon Anderson, has been in midseason form since the year began. The Laguna Niguel, Calif., native tied a school record by swiping three bases against Illinois State on Jan. 30. She has 26 stolen bases so far this year on 30 attempts. The 26 has already set a new single-season school record.

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 initially set the school single-season record and she had 19 last year, which is tied for third on that list.

Getting Even

After taking three games from South Carolina, Auburn's all-time record improved to 232-232-1 as the Tigers hit the .500 mark for the first time since the third game of the 1998 season. However, being .500 didn't last long as Auburn dropped its next three games and are now two games below .500 (238-239-1) all time.

No Hitting Tiger Pitching

Hitting Auburn's pitching this year is proving to be very tough for opponents. The Tigers have held their opponents to three or fewer hits, including three no-hitters, in 24-of-42 games so far this season.

Auburn is allowing its opponents to hit just .155 so far led by Kristen Keyes' .137 clip, which is second best in the SEC. The Tigers other two starters also keep opponents well below the Mendoza line as Beth DiPietro and Holly Currie allow .179 and .180 averages, respectively.

Even when opponents do get that rare hit, it doesn't get them very far. Only 51 hits off Auburn pitchers have been for extra bases with just seven being home runs.

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 .367 (102-of-278). Kristina McCain, who was moved to leadoff position last weekend, gets on at a .500 rate when leading off. Auburn has been successful when getting the leadoff runner on, scoring 54.9 percent of the time.

Meanwhile, opponents reach at just a .278 clip. Even when getting the leadoff runner on, opponents score just 29.3 percent of the time.

Magic Number Five

Auburn's magic number since the beginning of the 2003 season seems to be five. The Tigers are 49-17 since then, including 26-5 this year, when reaching five hits in a game. Auburn is even better when scoring at least five runs. The Tigers hit the five-run plateau 28 times since the beginning of last year and won each time. They have won all 17 games this year when they have scored at least five runs. The last time Auburn lost when scoring five runs was nearly two years ago, on April 27, 2002, when it fell to Kentucky, 8-5.

500 ... 600 ... and Counting

On April 7, Auburn's Kristen Keyes reached the 600-career strikeout plateau with her 14-K performance against Troy State. She is just the 10th player in SEC history to reach the mark. She also passed Arkansas' Rachel Tally for ninth in conference annals with her 609th strikeout.

Strangely enough, Keyes reached the 500-strikeout milestone against the Trojans as well. On March 2, she recorded her 500th career strikout in the first inning of a 10-K performance that was also a no-hitter.

Quick Strikes

Auburn has started the year by starting quickly on its opponents. The Tigers have scored in the first or second inning in 25-of-43 games so far, including 16 times in the first inning. In the first three innings of games, the Tigers are outscoring their opponent 94-21.

Comeback Cats

Auburn hasn't trailed often this year, but when it has, it has often found a way to comeback. The Tigers trailed UAB through four innings before rallying for a 4-3 win. Sacramento State led through five innings before allowing a five-run sixth. Birmingham-Southern held a lead through three innings only to have Auburn come back for a 3-1 win. In SEC play, Georgia took an early 2-0 lead on Auburn only to have the Tigers come back for a 4-2 win.

HALF A HUNDRED

Kristen Keyes notched yet another career milestone on April 17 with her first victory against Georgia. The Clearwater, Fla., picked up career win number 50 in a sparkling three-hit shutout against the SEC's best hitting team. She also set a new Auburn single-season strikeout record in that game with her 212th of the season.

11-Game Win Streak Set School Record

Auburn had its 11-game win streak snapped when it lost to Ole Miss. However, the streak set a new school record, breaking the nine-game streak that opened the 2002 season. Earlier this year, Auburn strung together seven straight wins, which is now the third longest streak in school annals.

Auburn's No-Hit Day is SEC First

On March 20, the Auburn softball team did something no other SEC team has ever done. The Tigers no-hit a conference opponent, Ole Miss, in back-to-back games of a doubleheader. Kristen Keyes got Auburn started by striking out 10 without allowing a hit through seven innings. Beth DiPietro followed immediately with a five-inning no-hitter in which she struck out three and faced the minimum 15 batters.

Tigers Enter Uncharted Territory at USC

With its three-game sweep of South Carolina, the Auburn softball team entered a very exclusive club. In fact it's a club of one. The Tigers became the first team to sweep the Gamecocks in a series at Beckham Field since the league went to three-game sets in 2001. Auburn is just the second team overall to take three of USC in that span.

Shutout Streak Sets Records

Auburn's run of six straight shutouts was the longest in school annals and tied the SEC record set earlier this year by Alabama. The streak was part of a 52.2 scoreless-inning run that is the longest in league history by 11 innings. Ole Miss snapped the steak with a three-run sixth inning on March 21.

Pitcher Kristen Keyes is also familiar with scoreless inning streaks as she had a 41.1 inning run that was snapped against Ole Miss. The streak is the second longest in the SEC this year.

Auburn Wins Three Straight SEC Series for First Time

For the first time in school history, Auburn won back-to-back-to-back conference series. The Tigers swept Arkansas before taking two of three from Ole Miss. Auburn then swept No. 15 South Carolina for its third consecutive series victory.

The streak was snapped when the Tigers lost all three games of a three-game series to Florida at the end of March.

Long Week

Auburn recently completed an eight-day, nine-game swing by taking two of three from Mississippi State. The Tigers opened the stretch with a three-game sweep of No. 15 South Carolina before making the six-hour trip from Columbia, S.C., to Gainesville, Fla. There, Auburn dropped three straight to No. 17 Florida. After Wednesday night's series finale, Auburn boarded the bus and headed home to prepare for the Friday/Saturday series with the Bulldogs.

Dean Named Sec Player of the Week

In three games from March 27-28, Sara Dean batted .700 to lead Auburn to a sweep of No. 15 South Carolina en route to SEC Player of the Week honors.

The Auburn offense faced pitchers ranked second and third in the conference in ERA. It didn't faze Dean. The Valencia, Calif., native pounded Stacey Johnson and Aleca Johnson for a combined 5-for-8 en route to a 7-for-10 weekend. She was 4-for-4 with runners in scoring position. She tied a career high twice on the weekend with a pair of three hit games.

Dean earned the honor for the second time in her career having also won the award on April 1, 2002. She is the 17th player in conference history * the third from Auburn * to take home Player of the Week honors twice in a career.

Keyes Throws No-No Again

Senior Kristen Keyes threw her third no-hitter of the season and the second since SEC play started in the opening game of the South Carolina series. The Clearwater, Fla., native struck out 10 and walked one in the effort. She has also no-hit Troy State and Ole Miss this year. Prior to the 2004 campaign, Keyes had hurled just one no-no, a nine-inning performance against Georgia Tech last year.

Keyes Named SEC Pitcher of the Week

On March 8, Kristen Keyes was named SEC Pitcher of the Week for hurling a no-hitter against Troy State. It was the second no-hitter of her career and the fifth in Auburn history.

She also picked up the 500th strikeout of her career in the game, making her just the 12th player in SEC history to hit the milestone.

It is the fourth time that Keyes has been named SEC Pitcher of the Week as she took home the honor twice in 2002 and once last year. She is just the 10th player in conference history to win a Player of the Week award at least four times in a career.

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.

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.

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 final. Auburn won all three of its round robin games before knocking off Furman in the first round of bracket play. Auburn outscored its opponents 33-4 in the five games.

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.

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

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)