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softball's 'championship day'

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Why Auburn softball's 'championship day' wins point to promise

Published: Apr. 23, 2024, 6:00 a.m.
5–6 minutes

In the second at-bat of the game, Kentucky’s Erin Coffel got ahold of a 3-2 pitch from Auburn’s Shelby Lowe and sent it out of the park, giving the Wildcats a one run lead in the first inning.

No. 24 Kentucky had already clinched the three-game series, coming from behind to beat Auburn on Saturday and then winning Sunday’s game.

And given the early gut punch Coffel delivered, it would’ve been hard to convince most that Monday’s series finale would end any differently than the two games prior. But it did.

In the bottom of the second inning, in her first at bat of the night, Auburn senior Makayla Packer barreled up a pitch and sent over the left field wall to knot the game up.

The game stayed tied at one run apiece until the bottom of the fifth inning, when Packer used her speed to capitalize on the smallest of mishaps and scored from third.

“I use my speed to my advantage,” Packer said. “I saw her fumble the throw, so I said let’s use my speed and take a chance.”

Auburn went on to pile on a pair of insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, all while Lowe and the Tigers’ defense kept the Wildcats off the scoreboard en route to a 4-1 series-finale win for Auburn.

With Monday’s win, Auburn improves to 24-15-1 on the season and 6-12 in SEC play.

And given the long-standing high standards of Auburn softball, their current conference record, which places them second-to-last in the SEC, isn’t one the Tigers are beating their chest about.

“We’re not where we want to be. We know that. In the standings and all that stuff, we know that,” said Auburn head coach Mickey Dean, who announced March 26 that he’d be retiring at the end of this season.

To be fair to Auburn, its schedule has been brutal.

The Tigers opened league play with a 3-9 record after playing a top-heavy SEC schedule that featured series against Missouri, Arkansas, Texas A&M and Tennessee — four teams currently sitting inside the top 14 of ESPN’s and USA Softball’s rankings.

Since then, Auburn has continued its SEC slate with series against LSU and Kentucky, a stretch in which the Tigers have gone 3-3, which included stealing the series from then-No. 6 LSU.

But record aside, there’s something else that sticks out to Dean.

Throughout the entire season, Auburn has lost the final game of the weekend — in-conference or out-of-conference — just twice: once in the series finale against Texas A&M and once in a one-run loss to Georgia Tech to end the War Eagle Classic.

Those games — the last of the weekend — Dean calls “championship days” as he believes they carry a bit more weight.

“For me, it’s about how well we’re playing on championship day. And that means a lot, that means a lot,” Dean said. “Like I said, we’re not where we want to be in the standings, we know that. But when you can leave every weekend except for two feeling good about who you are and what you’re doing, that’s a big difference than leaving and feeling bad about it or feeling negative about it.”

It’s really a roundabout way of the age-old saying, “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

And that’s why it’s far from time to throw in the towel on the Tigers.

Sure, Auburn didn’t get the start to the season it wanted. But as the Tigers’ final two SEC series and the SEC Tournament approach, there’s plenty of time for anything to happen.

Admittedly, Auburn’s lineup will likely need to find another gear if it wants to compete in the SEC Tournament. On the year, the Tigers are hitting just .252 as a team, which ranks second from the bottom in the league.

However, the Tigers’ pitching staff might be peaking at the right time thanks to Lowe’s newfound confidence.

For just the second time since her freshman season, Lowe went the distance Monday night, pitching all seven innings — just as she did the weekend prior against LSU. Both times, Lowe helped Auburn to “championship day” wins.

“It feels good to have confidence again,” Lowe said Monday night. “It’s a hard thing to earn back, so I’m working on it and earning it back.”

With Lowe having found her stride, the Tigers now have a pitcher to complement Maddie Penta, who has spent the season defending her reigning SEC Pitcher of the Year title. And that could make Auburn a threat down the stretch.

“It gives you an opportunity on championship day,” Dean said of having two high-performing pitchers.

Come the SEC Tournament, which Auburn will host on May 7-11, because it’s single elimination and any game can be the last game of the weekend, every game will come on a “championship day” for the Tigers.

And with Monday’s win in the fold, Auburn now sits at 7-2 in games played on “championship days” — a statistic that favors the Tigers.

“That’s something to be excited about,” Dean said. “It let’s everyone know and it let’s us know, that when it comes to that championship day, we are ready.”

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  • WarTiger changed the title to softball's 'championship day'

“Championship day” What a stupid ass mindset to have. Definitely reaching for anything positive out of this season. 

funny how that last win of a series never carries over to the beginning of the next one. Counting down the days till his ass is gone. He makes me blood boil. 

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2 hours ago, Big Fat Barner said:

“Championship day” What a stupid ass mindset to have

I agree. I've been around and associated with baseball longer than I care to admit. Never have I heard that losing a series but salvaging the last game is any sort of championship.

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8 hours ago, Mikey said:

I agree. I've been around and associated with baseball longer than I care to admit. Never have I heard that losing a series but salvaging the last game is any sort of championship.

I felt the same way when I read that article. Something like putting lipstick on a pig.  I don't know how long we have been hearing that it is all about timely hitting and yet we have not been able to correct/improve that specific issue or even explain what is being done to help the team correct the issue.

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