AUBURN, Ala. — Mickey Dean raised more than a few eyebrows Thursday when he put sophomore KK Crocker as his 2-hole hitter for Auburn softball’s season opener. He did it again Friday when he put freshman Chardonnay Harris into a scoreless game with two base runners and no outs.
But four games into the season, Crocker is now hitting .500 with 5 RBI — leading the Tigers in both. The second baseman, who battled a knee issue last season, batted in three of No. 13 Auburn’s five runs Friday night in another doubleheader sweep of shutouts.
“Last year kind of set me back with the knee brace,” Crocker said. “But I worked my butt off over the summer and in this fall to get back where I needed to be. It’s a lot better.”
Dean’s second surprise move also paid off after senior Kaylee Carlson pitched a 2-hitter in a 3-0 win over Tennessee Tech to open the Friday doubleheader. The second win — a 2-0 win over Furman — came behind the arm of Harris, who had 6 strikeouts, 2 walks and a hit batter in 4 innings of no-hit softball.
Carlson was in cruise control for most of her second shutout of the season for Auburn (4-0). The senior struck out six and didn’t surrender a walk to Tennessee Tech.
It was her best statistical performance since a six-inning perfect game last March against Ohio State, but Carlson preferred her Thursday start — a career-high nine strikeouts in the opening win over Marshall.
“I felt good, but I felt better the day before,” Carlson said. “Tonight, my rise ball wasn’t really working. I wasn’t able to get many strikeouts tonight. … I did pretty good, but I didn’t feel as good.”
On offense, Auburn didn’t break through in Game 1 until the bottom of the 5th. The Tigers scattered 12 hits in the win over Tennessee Tech, but it took a leadoff double from left fielder Morgan Podany to spark a rally. Victoria Draper reached on a bunt, and Crocker brought both home with a single up the middle.
Crocker continued her offensive surge in Game 2 against Furman, once again in the bottom of the 5th. After Brittany Maresette came home with some aggressive pinch-running off a Courtney Shea single, Crocker hit a nearly identical single to bring Draper home. It was one of only four hits from the Tigers off Furman’s Lindsey Bert, who was the SoCon Pitcher of the Year in 2017.
“[Crocker] competes, she’s making herself a very tough out,” Dean said. “That’s what I like about our hitters — they’re not easy outs. Especially KK. Man, she’s money with runners in scoring position. She thrives on it right now.”
That mini-surge for Auburn — which has scored in just 5 of 18 innings in which it has batted this season — came after some clutch pitching from Harris. Martin surrendered a pair of baserunners to open the 4th inning, which prompted Dean to go with the left-handed freshman.
“You know, we weren’t scoring a lot of runs,” Dean said. “It’s forcing our pitchers right now to be perfect. In a normal situation of where we’re hitting and doing the things that we know we can do, I may not pull Makayla in that situation. But because we’re not putting a lot of runs up on the board. … I thought the matchups were perfect for Chardonnay.”
She pitched out of the jam with two filthy strikeouts and a flyout to center.
Harris finished the final three innings without much trouble, recording her first career win with six strikeouts in four innings of work.
“It’s a good start,” Harris said. “It most definitely keeps me confident. I’m also very humbled just to be a part of this experience. I told myself, ‘I want to strike out the first batter of my career.’ I did that. I’m halfway there, because I want to strike out the last hitter of my career here. Still got a couple more years, but I’m on the right road.”
Despite the quieter bats — especially from Auburn’s middle of the lineup hitters — Dean sounds pleased about where his team is headed.
“I just like the way we’re competing right now,” Dean said. “I mean, I really do. I know our offense isn’t where we want it to be. … When I see issues is if we get outside of who we are, get outside of what we’re trying to do with our process.
“Right now, pitching-wise, we’re there. Defense, we’re working there. And offense, we’ve got most of our hitters there. We’ll all get there. It’s a journey.”
Up next for Auburn softball
The Tigers will reset their Friday schedule, weather permitting. Auburn is scheduled to play Tennessee Tech at 3 p.m. ET/2 p.m. CT, followed by a game against Furman.
Both games are scheduled to stream on SEC Network+.