AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn softball right fielder Alyssa Rivera’s approach to the game is as simple as it gets.
“I try not to think too much, so I just go in there and do what I have to do to make the team win,” Rivera said. “That’s it.”
Rivera’s effective style of think little and do a lot has been on full display during April for the No. 7 Auburn softball team.
Since her return to the starting lineup on April 1, Rivera is 15 for 31 with 8 RBI, 6 runs scored and 1 home run. An Eagle Lake, Fla. native, Rivera also made 11 putouts in the field — several on diving catches — and gunned down a possible go-ahead runner at the plate.
Rivera has done all that for Auburn as a true freshman.
On a team led by upperclassman stars including All-America third baseman Kasey Cooper, senior shortstop Haley Fagan and junior catcher Carlee Wallace, Rivera leads regular starters in batting average (.412) and fielding percentage (a perfect 1.000).
“I see so much potential,” Cooper said of Rivera. “You see a kid out there just wanting to have fun. It looks like she just enjoys playing the game. You don’t see any thinking. You don’t see anything going through her head, which is perfect.”
Rivera, who also plays on the USA Softball Junior National Team, has been a classic 5-tool threat for Auburn in 2017. With the Tigers losing Cooper and Fagan after this season, Rivera has all the makings of the next star for coach Clint Myers’ program.
“She’s a heck of an athlete,” Myers said. “When she figures it out, she really could be dangerous. She has a high upside.”
But all that upside sat on the bench for a while. Rivera started a few sets of consecutive games earlier in the campaign when Auburn held its annual weekend tournaments at Jane B. Moore Field.
However, when Auburn opened the SEC schedule with a series against LSU, Rivera wasn’t in the starting lineup. Myers told reporters Rivera wasn’t fully understanding the value of practice, and junior Madi Gipson took her spot in right field.
That was a wake-up call for Rivera, who buckled down with her practice approach in late March. She went to her older teammates for guidance.
“Just looking up to the upperclassmen, basically, and looking at what they’re doing,” Rivera said. “Whenever you make a mistake, don’t let Coach tell you a million times that you’re doing it wrong, because you get yelled at. By having figures above you that know what they’re doing, fall behind in their footsteps.”
Rivera got her chance to reclaim right field during a weekend series at Georgia. She came off the bench and made a diving grab in a 7-5 win over the Bulldogs — one that appeared on ESPN’s SportsCenter later that evening.
— Auburn Softball (@AuburnSoftball) April 1, 2017
Two days later, she made the play of the weekend by gunning down a possible go-ahead runner in a 4-3 victory. The win ensured Auburn softball’s first sweep at Georgia, and it secured Rivera’s place in the starting lineup.
— Auburn Softball (@AuburnSoftball) April 4, 2017
“Whenever you get the opportunity, you’ve got to make the most of the opportunity that you’re given,” Rivera said. “When my name or my number is called, I go out there and perform to the best of my ability.”
When the Tigers came home to the Plains after the Georgia series, Rivera continued her impressive tear at the plate. In her 9 games back as Auburn’s starting right fielder, Rivera had multiple hits in 6 of those contests.
Fourteen of those were singles. Rivera is a consistent contact hitter. She also makes a habit of turning well-placed choppers into infield singles with her impressive speed — speed that gives her excellent range in the outfield and great value on the base paths.
“She’s a young lady who could hit the ball to [Auburn’s McWhorter Center, which is behind Jane B. Moore Field], and then she can lay down a bunt,” Myers said after a win over Ole Miss. “As long as she keeps putting the ball in play, I’m a happy camper. Because when she puts the ball in play, good things tend to happen.”
A few days later, Rivera lived up to Myers’ words. In a midweek game against Georgia State, the newly crowned SEC Freshman of the Week crushed a 2-run homer to straightaway center field.
The homer was the third of Rivera’s career. She flashed that power in early-season games against North Dakota and the College of Charleston.
“That’s how she hits the ball in BP,” Myers said. “It’s good to see. Maybe she’ll revert to that swing a little more because that was excellent. … She’s got tremendous upside.”
Rivera’s emergence among Auburn’s most reliable batters couldn’t have come at a better time for the program, which is struggling when compared to the last 2 seasons.
The success of Florida-raised freshman Rivera impressed Cooper, who will leave Auburn as among the best all-around players in college softball history. Cooper sees incredible potential in Rivera.
“She looks amazing out there,” Cooper said. “When she sees the ball, she reacts. When she’s up at the plate, everybody wants her up there.”
Through all of her recent success, the easygoing Rivera continues to chalk everything up to her basic but effective mindset.
“See the ball, hit the ball. That’s the motto,” Rivera said with a laugh. “Just take what you do in [practice] to the game, and you’ll be fine. Just try not to think about anything.”