AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn softball was looking for a fast start to its final nonconference home game against Kennesaw State on Wednesday night. But that’s not exactly how the evening began.
In the minutes leading up to the first pitch, third baseman Kasey Cooper was struck in the face by a ground ball during warmups. Cooper, who had previously started 135 straight games for the Tigers, was removed from the starting lineup. Kendall Veach, who stepped in for Cooper at third base, was standing near the play when it happened.
“It was a freak accident,” Veach said. “But I was ready. I was ready to go.”
As the game got rolling on the Plains, the Tigers managed to deal with a slight rainfall and move past Kennesaw State, 7-3.
After two scoreless innings, Auburn finally got on the board thanks to Carlee Wallace. The catcher hit a double down the right-field line, which allowed slapper Victoria Draper just enough time to make her way around the bases and earn the first run of the night.
Alyssa Rivera then continued her 10-game hitting streak by stepping up to the plate and drilling another double down the right-center, bringing in Wallace. After starting pitcher Makayla Martin gave up the lead in the top of the fourth, Courtney Shea responded with a go-ahead home run in the bottom of the inning.
While the rest of the night wasn’t pristine for Auburn, the Tigers managed to turn things around with some insurance hits — including one from Cooper — in the sixth inning.
Clint Myers was pleased following his team’s victory, but with the postseason quickly approaching the head coach still expects more attention to detail from his squad.
“It’s a process and we’ve got to keep working towards it. We’re going to be fine. It was a good win and it’s going to get us ready for South Carolina,” Myers said. “We talked about it — every time they scored, we outscored. That’s good and that’s important for teams to be able to do.”
First baseman Jenna Abbott knocked a single up the left field line in the bottom of the fourth inning, but made a mistake trying to advance to second instead of just stopping at first.
The senior made up for the misstep in the bottom of the sixth inning, though. Abbott doubled to right field after back-to-back singles by Kendall Veach and Courtney Shea. It was just enough time for pinch runner Brittany Maresette to send Veach home, giving Auburn a 5-3 lead before the final inning.
That play seemed to take pressure off of the next few hitters to arrive at the plate for Auburn. Casey McCrackin singled to center-field, sending Bree Fornis in for another run.
That’s when the night got even better for Auburn.
Despite standing in the dugout for most of the evening icing what looked to be a nasty black eye, Kasey Cooper walked to the plate to pinch hit for Victoria Draper. Cooper hit a sacrifice fly, brining Brittany Maresette across home plate and giving Auburn a 7-3 lead.
Kaylee Carlson came from the bullpen to shut the door in the top of the seventh and ensure Martin’s 16th win of the season.
Player of the game
C Courtney Shea: 2-for-3, 1 HR and 2 RBI
As Clint Myers walked out to preview Kennesaw State’s visit with Auburn media on Tuesday afternoon, Courtney Shea stood and worked in the batter’s box. Her efforts paid off in a big way, helping Auburn to defeat the Owls.
Shea stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the fourth inning and gave Auburn the cushion it needed to breathe through the rest of the night.
“I was working on my stride before practice yesterday and then I worked on my timing a lot during practice,” Shea said. “We focused a lot on going back-and-forth from changeups and fastballs and two-strike approaches for changeups. I figured out I needed to start a little later… I was really focusing on trying to start later and so I let the ball get a little deeper, and it worked tonight.”
In three at-bats against the Owls, Shea batted in two runs and hit a go-ahead homer in the fourth by sending a rocket over the right field fence. Shea entered Wednesday night’s game batting .257 and raised it by 12 points in the nonconference finale.
It’s a step in the right direction with three remaining SEC series left before the Tigers head to the SEC Tournament.
“It’s important that we get Shea and Veach and Abbott and McCrackin and Draper — it’s important that we have more than just two people in the front of the lineup trying to score runs for us,” Myers said. “We’re better than that and we need to prove it. We’ve got to stop talking about it. We’ve been doing a lot of talking. We’ve got to go out and spank somebody. Let them know that Auburn is for real.”
What’s next for Auburn softball
Auburn will travel to Columbia, S.C., for its three-game conference series against the South Carolina Gamecocks this weekend.
The action starts Friday night at 6 p.m ET/5 p.m. CT at Beckham Field. SEC Network+ will live stream the game online.