May 22, 2018 (Akademos, Inc.)
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  Softball Returns

Itís amazing what a Womenís College World Series appearance, Southeastern Conference championship and 56-win season can do for expectations. And, not to put pressure on Clint Myers and the Auburn softball team, but expectations for the 2016 season are to basically repeat the 2015 season.

USA Today/NFCA Nation Division I recently released its Top 25 poll, where it placed Auburn fourth, providing quite the nod to Myerís season-year team. Defending national champion Florida, which defeated the Tigers in a 9-inning thriller in the national semifinals last year, is ranked first, with Michigan and LSU following, respectively. The same four teams finished top in the nation last year, however Auburn was third and LSU fourth.

Times are good at Jane B. Moore Field, which received another set of bleachers during the offseason ó a second subtle attempt to feed fansí need to see the Tigers. And for good reason.

Auburn returns most of its stars from 2015, including Emily Carosone, who led the team in batting average, doubles, RBIs, slugging, runs and tied for most home runs, Tiffany Howard, who had the most hits on the team, Kasey Cooper, who is the first Auburn softball player to be selected to the Team USA roster and tied for most homers last year, and Haley Fagan.

The Tigers also have all three pitchers Rachel Walters, Lexi Davis and Marcy Harper, back on the roster.

Auburn returns nearly its entire lineup, but did lose superstar and clutch hitter Branndi Melero. Myers hopes to take advantage of several transfers and freshmen to make up for the loss.

Carosone, an infielder, hit .438 last season with 88 runs, 18 doubles, 18 home runs and 80 RBIs. She was joined at the top of the batting average list with Howard, an outfield, who hit .415. Both players started every game, along with Fagan, Jade Rhodes, who is back at first base, and Melero.

Walters held the lowest ERA in 2015 ó 2.91 ó while recording an 18-3 record in 47 appearances. She threw eight complete games and struck out 118 batters in 149 1/3 innings. Davis had a 26-3 record with a team-high 26 starts. Her ERA was 3.91 and she struck out 90 batters over 152 1/3 innings. Harper, the third senior on AUís pitching staff, worked a 3.95 ERA and 12-5 record in 118 2/3 innings.

The 2016 season opens Feb. 11 at home against Appalachian State. The Plainsman Invite follows Feb. 12-14, with the Tigers facing Western Kentucky, Butler, Furman and Appalachian State. Auburn hosts the Tiger Invitational in late February and Wilson/DeMarini Classic in early March.

Conference play opens with a huge series against Florida at home the weekend of March 12. Auburn also hosts South Carolina, Georgia and Texas A&M in its 33-game home schedule.

The Tigers face 15 teams this spring that made the 2015 NCAA Tournament, eight of which won their conference.

SEC play will continue to be a challenge, with only three conference opponents having not made the tournament in 2015. The SEC Tournament is scheduled from May 11-14 in Starkville, Miss. NCAA Regional and Super Regional sites are to be dated, but the Tigers have a chance to host a regional again, with play dates being May 19-22. Super Regionals are from May 27-29, and the Womenís College World Series is from June 2-8 in Oklahoma City.


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