AUBURN, Ala. — Last year, the postseason was Makayla Martin’s time for Auburn softball.
As a freshman, Martin gave up just one earned run in seven innings of a Super Regional against Arizona. At the Women’s College World Series, Martin pitched three appearances without an earned run — including a championship-decider against Oklahoma. She finished the postseason with just three earned runs allowed in 23.2 innings.
Martin didn’t exactly carry that form throughout her sophomore season, though. She allowed five runs in her first SEC start against LSU. In her next three appearances against SEC competition, opponents scored 18 runs on her. On April 20, Martin was suspended after her arrest with two teammates on marijuana charges.
The sophomore slump pushed the San Diego, Calif., native to take on extra practice in hopes of finding that edge that made her a dominant freshman.
“I just kept coming out here, working on my pitches and trying not to get into my head too much,” Martin said. “Just letting myself know that I’m not this pitcher, I’m so much better than this.”
As Auburn softball heads into the start of the NCAA Tournament this weekend, Martin has proven just that.
Martin has won each of her last five starts. She held Alabama to just one run in a series-clinching win, and she pitched a combined six shutout innings of relief in her last two appearances.
“She’s out in the circle now competing her ass off, and that’s what we want out of all of our pitchers,” Auburn coach Clint Myers said. “That kind of competitor is the one we’re after — the ones who want the ball, and the ones who want to stay in the game and prove themselves. … Mak is that way now.”
For most of the SEC slate, Auburn had to rely heavily on junior pitcher Kaylee Carlson while Martin struggled. But the Tigers knew they needed more than just one great arm in order to have a shot at a possible third straight trip to the Women’s College World Series.
Martin’s bounce-back couldn’t have come at a better spot.
“She’s been really good these last few weeks,” junior catcher Carlee Wallace said. “She’s a competitor. She knows it’s time to go, she knows that we can’t do this with just one. There’s way too many games on the line to just do it with just Kaylee.”
If the regular season is any indication, the Tigers will need Carlson and Martin’s fine form to continue. As Auburn’s offensive production has dropped in 2016, the starting duo have engineered the best pitching season since Myers took over on the Plains.
That could mean a lot of low-scoring contests, but Martin said the Auburn pitching staff is ready for it.
“We just have to play our game and keep them in the game as much as possible,” If we come up short and we did our job, that’s all we can do.”
Martin seems to have the ideal mindset heading into regional play, which starts Friday afternoon with Auburn’s matchup against ETSU. She welcomes the extra tension and weight of postseason softball.
“It’s the hardest point of the season, I think, and it’s the most exciting point,” Martin said. “I love it.”