No. 13 Tigers head to Troy for midweek game

Casey McCrackin is expected to make her season debut for Auburn softball on Wednesday.

The junior infielder, who missed last weekend’s six games due to the flu, practiced on Tuesday and should be in the starting lineup at either second or third base when No. 13 Auburn (6-0) goes to Troy (3-0) on Wednesday (5 p.m. CT).

“I thought the first three or four games the top and the bottom of our lineup were being successful because they were hitting early in the count. I thought the middle of our lineup struggled because they were looking at three or four pitches. I thought we made nice adjustments throughout the weekend of just letting our hands go and saying ‘You know what? It doesn’t have to be the perfect pitch.”

“She comes out had a great day here (Tuesday) her role is going to be starting at either second or third,” Auburn coach Mickey Dean said. “I’m not going to have a kid lose her starting position, or what I thought was her starting position, because she got sick.”

Sophomore KK Crocker started all six games at second base and batted .412 with a double and a triple. Kendall Veach, last season’s leading home run hitter as the starting first baseman, started five games at third base and one at catcher. She broke out on Saturday with a home run and a triple. Senior Courtney Shea started five games at catcher. Freshman Makenna Dowell started one game at third base.

Softball Notebook: McCrackin returns to the lineup

McCrackin hit .250 (21 of 84) with a .357 on-base percentage, 17 runs scored, four home runs and 14 RBIs while making 42 starts and 45 appearances last season. She went on a tear at the end of the season, going 9 of 26 (.346) with three home runs, five RBIs with three runs scored in her final 11 games.

McCrackin closed the preseason strong, with a grand slam in one of the last intrasquad scrimmages, and felt the power she had at the end of last season was carrying over.

“Just try to keep that same mind set of get a good pitch, hit the ball hard,” McCrackin said earlier this month. “I hit a couple of balls hard and they didn’t go out, but still hits. All you got to do.”

“Troy has always been scrappy,” Dean said. “I’ve played against them in the past, and the one thing I know is they are going to be scrappy. We are playing at their place. I’m sure when the schedule came out this was in bold letters. We know we are going to get their best game. We absolutely know that.”

She worked at both second and third during Tuesday’s practice, but is considered more likely to start at third. If so, either Kendall Veach or Courtney Shea will catch and the other will likely be the designated player, which could also be Tannon Snow.

“It was awesome for all of us,” Veach said. “Everyone broke out. I think we all feel good. We are all getting loosened up. We are ready to go out there against bigger and better teams. We are all coming together as one unit now.”

“I won’t make those decision until tomorrow,” Dean said. “I haven’t really thought about (what would determine if Shea or Snow is the designated player when Veach catches). I take a look at practice and when I sit down to do the lineup, unless it’s a dominating left-handed pitcher or a really dominating right-handed pitcher, I put together the best nine that I think gives us the opportunity to win that ballgame.

McCrackin was a standout during preseason practice but came down with the flu shortly before the Tigers opened their season last Thursday. She sat out the six games her teammates won over the weekend. She returned to practice Tuesday.

“We’re going to face some pitchers where I’m going to have to think about do I want to stack the top with lefties? Do I want to stack the top with righties? I don’t know that we’re there yet.”

“Her role is going to be starting at either second or third,” Dean said. “I’m not going to have a kid lose what I thought was her starting position because she got sick. I’m not going to do that.”

Troy could turn to right-hander Peyton Glover for tomorrow’s game. She struck out 14 batters over 13 innings in wins against Alabama State and Valparaiso last weekend.

After going 0-for-11 in Auburn’s first four games and having a talk with hitting coach Eddy Ketelhut, Veach went 3-for-6 in the final three games. Her mammoth home run sailed over the tall scoreboard in left-center field.

James Crepea is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @JamesCrepea.

Auburn third baseman Kendall Veach (24) hits a home run against Tennessee Tech on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018, in Auburn, Ala.

No. 13 Auburn (6-0) stole 12 bases on 17 attempts during its six games in the Plainsman Invite, a rate of 2.0 per game that leads the SEC and ranks 26th nationally early in the season. That’s in stark contrast to the 28 steals on 32 attempts all of last season under Clint Myers, who was vehemently opposed to stealing bases.

Kendall Veach saw what was wrong as soon as she turned on the film. She was anxious, and it was messing up the mechanics of her swing.

Dean was not exaggerating, as his philosophy had no exceptions over the opening weekend. Tannon Snow, Justus Perry, Kendall Veach and Makenna Dowell were all 1 of 1 stealing bases and Courtney Shea, who has a left toe injury, was thrown out at second and caught off third.

Auburn’s returning home run leader started her junior season 0 for 11 at the plate through the team’s first four games, and she wasn’t the only hitter at the heart of the order struggling: Right fielder Alyssa Rivera was 0 for 10, and designated player Tannon Snow was 0 for 7.

“We’re going to run,” Dean said before the season. “You can print that, you can send it to everybody in the country. We’re going to run. If you’ve watched my teams in the past, we run. My philosophy there has never changed and I’ve never gone away from it.

So before Saturday’s doubleheader against Tennessee Tech and Furman in the Plainsman Invite, first-year hitting coach Eddy Ketelhut spoke to the trio and told them to stay within themselves and not try to do too much at the plate.

The approach worked. After scoring just 11 runs over the first four games of the weekend, the No. 13-ranked Tigers scored a combined 27 in the final two. The three hitters at the heart of the order were a big part of the effort, and they hope to be again during a midweek contest Wednesday night at Troy.

ON-BASE PERCENTAGE 2013-14: .422 (3rd, 10th) 2014-15: .460 (1st, 4th) 2015-16: .436 (3rd, 5th) 2016-17: .399 (5th, 18th) 2017-18: .475 (3rd, 13th) Why: Auburn had 48 hits, 31 walks and 5 hit batters with 139 at-bats

“My team didn’t give up on me, I didn’t give up on myself, nor did my coaches. I just kept swinging, kept battling, and finally, I just kind of broke through,” Veach said Tuesday. “It was awesome for all of us.”

Veach went 3 for 7 over the two games on Saturday, hitting her first home run of the season as well as a triple as she totaled three RBIs and two runs scored. Rivera went 3 for 5 with a pair of doubles, two walks and three runs scored. Snow went 2 for 3 with a home run, three RBIs and three runs scored.

SLUGGING PERCENTAGE 2013-14: .518 (4th, 12th) 2014-15: .571 (1st, 12th) 2015-16: .525 (2nd, 12th) 2016-17: .439 (7th, 54th) 2017-18: .518 (5th, 36th) Why: Auburn had 8 doubles, 2 triples and 4 home runs

“It’s been a couple of days trying to get in the swing of things,” said Snow, who revealed prior to the start of the series that the undisclosed illness that sidelined her for the entire 2017 season was epilepsy. “But feeling that jump off the bat felt really good.”

What little offensive production Auburn put together on Thursday and Friday came from the top and bottom of the lineup.

Victoria Draper, KK Crocker and Taylon Snow were dynamic hitting 1-2-3 through the first four games. The center fielder went 3 for 8 with six walks an RBI and four runs scored; the second baseman went 6 for 12 with five RBIs and three runs scored; and the shortstop went 5 for 13 with an RBI. Justus Perry and Morgan Podany in the latter half of the order, combining to go 6 for 17 with an RBI and a run scored.

That quintet continued to perform well on Saturday. Draper scored three runs; Crocker contributed an RBI and a run; Taylon Snow had five hits, four RBIs and three runs; Perry hit two home runs and drove in eight; and Podany walked three times and scored twice.

The difference was that they were joined by their teammates in the middle of the order.

“Early in the season, you know that pitchers are going to be attacking,” head coach Mickey Dean said. “So as hitters, you have to be able to attack. I thought early, the first three or four games, the top and the bottom of our lineup, they were being successful because they were hitting early in the count. I thought the middle of our lineup struggled because they were looking at three or four pitches.

“I think the success of the top of our lineup and the bottom of our lineup kind of fed on those in the middle of the lineup, where they started listening to them talk throughout the couple of days, and they just started to let it go a little bit.”

“I think we all feel good,” Veach said. “I think we’re all getting loosened up, and we’re ready to get out there and face some bigger and better teams.”

A Connecticut native and University of Maryland graduate, Josh has been covering Auburn University athletics for the Opelika-Auburn News since the summer of 2016.

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