AUBURN, Ala. — Alyssa Rivera earned her way back into the Auburn softball starting lineup last weekend. On Friday night against Ole Miss, the freshman showed she wasn’t letting her spot go away any time soon.
Rivera had two of Auburn’s five hits — including a go-ahead 2-RBI single — in the No. 5 Tigers’ 3-1 win over No. 21 Ole Miss. The right fielder capped a 4th-inning rally started by a Kasey Cooper double and the only error of the game by the Rebels.
“It wasn’t pretty, but as I told them, great teams figure out ways to win,” Auburn coach Clint Myers said. “That’s the bottom line. Would I have liked to have seen double digits in the hit column? Yes, like we did against Georgia. … But we weren’t disciplined, and we didn’t barrel the ball.”
Auburn (32-5, 7-3 SEC) got another stellar outing from junior starting pitcher Kaylee Carlson. She struck out seven batters, and none of the six hits she allowed to the speedy Rebels left the infield. Carlson set down the final nine batters of the game after getting the lead from her teammates.
“The little things like the infield hits don’t matter as much when we have runners on the board,” Carlson said. “When they scored, they had the two infield hits and then the sac fly. So things like that really don’t weigh on my mind when we have runs.”
Auburn’s bats came alive in the bottom of the 4th after a slow start to the game.
The Tigers only had one hit off Ole Miss pitcher Kaitlin Lee through the first three innings of the game, and they didn’t have a single ball leave the infield in the air. That changed in the 4th when Kasey Cooper — who was celebrating her birthday — hit a low laser into left-center field for a double.
“(Lee) did a really good job of forcing us to swing at balls into the batter’s box,” Cooper said. “I think if you go back and look, a lot of people got jammed. We tried to make adjustments at the second at-bat… she forced us to get ourselves out.”
Haley Fagan laid down a picture-perfect bunt on the next at-bat and beat it out for a single. Cooper then came home on a throwing error from Ole Miss after Kendall Veach grounded the ball to third base.
Then Rivera stepped into the plate and chopped another single over an infielder’s head. This one brought two runners home, and the Tigers took a 3-1 lead at the halfway point of the contest.
“I’m trying to figure out her style,” Myers said. “She’s a heck of an athlete. When she figures it out, she really could be dangerous. She has a high upside.”
Player of the game
RF Alyssa Rivera: 2-for-3 with 2 RBI
Rivera won the starting right field job again last weekend against Georgia with outstanding defense. On Friday night, she continued a strong stretch at the plate.
“You see a kid out there just wanting to have fun,” Cooper said. “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. … I think she looks amazing out there. When she sees the ball, she reacts.”
The freshman outfielder had Auburn’s only hit of the first trip through the lineup. On her second at-bat, she brought both of Auburn’s go-ahead runs with another chopper. While the freshman isn’t much of a threat to leave the yard, she has been a consistent bat toward the bottom of the lineup in recent games. Rivera is now 6-for-10 in the last three games.
“She’s a young lady who could hit the ball to (the McWhorter Center, which sits behind the outfield fence), and then she can lay down a bunt,” Myers said. “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.”
Neither team walked a single batter a breezy Friday night opener.
After not walking a single batter in a Game 3 win against Georgia last Sunday, Carlson repeated the feat Friday night against Ole Miss. Her walk-free outing was crucial, as it kept a fast Ole Miss team from getting extra bases.
“It flew by,” Carlson said. “It was definitely pretty awesome.”
However, the zero in the walk column wasn’t as welcome of a sight for the Auburn offense. Friday night marked the first game of 2017 in which the Tigers didn’t draw a single walk. One week ago, Auburn walked 11 times against Georgia in a Game 1 win.
“(Lee) had only walked 18 coming in,” Myers said. “She’s around the plate. She’s a pretty good definition of a pitcher, because she’s not overpowering. … The key to it is make her come over the white of the plate. That’s what we didn’t do tonight. We were swinging at pitches that were either in or wide.”
Up next for Auburn softball
Auburn looks for the series win Saturday afternoon against Ole Miss.
The Tigers will take the field on A-Day with a 4 p.m. ET first pitch against the Rebels. The game will be televised on ESPNU.