Alabama State, Auburn softball set to meet at Lagoon Park
By Tim Gayle
Alabama State softball coach Chris Steiner-Wilcoxson wanted to play Auburn on campus, but she knew she didn’t have the facilities to host the fifth-ranked Tigers.
“It’s not very often you can get a top five opponent to travel,” Steiner-Wilcoxson said. “We’re very excited about bringing Auburn into town.”
Natalie Norman, who books the events for the city’s softball facilities, was looking for a marquee matchup when she learned the Tigers were on ASU’s schedule.
“It’s been kind of an ongoing conversation,” Norman said. “(Facilities manager) Rob Hollingshead and I talked about it a year ago when it first came on the schedule. At that time, we were thinking, big game, she probably wants to have it at home. Then Billy Taylor, our (Lagoon Park) manager, we discussed it and he had a conversation with her. It’s their home game and we’re treating it as such, but certainly it is exciting for us to be able to have Alabama State and Auburn over here. We can get more people in here.”
Alabama State agreed to move its April 26 game with Auburn to Lagoon Park Softball Complex Field 6. Tickets go on sale today through the city of Montgomery at www.funinmontgomery.com. Tickets are $10 for reserved (dugout to dugout) seats and $5 for general admission seating.
“We know our seating capacity is limited so it just made sense,” Steiner-Wilcoxson said. “This would be an opportunity for the fans to come out, otherwise we wouldn’t have enough room for everybody to show up. Hopefully, all the fans in the tri-county area will want to come out and watch and see what good college softball is all about. We’re the defending SWAC champs, they’re the defending SEC (tournament) champs. It’s a good opportunity for the city of Montgomery and ASU.”
ASU third baseman Kendall Core would rather play the Tigers at the Barbara Williams Softball Complex, but recognizes the fact that moving the game to Lagoon will expose the program to more fans.
“I knew it would be an awesome idea,” Core said. “Clearly, we don’t have the stands and we know they’re coming with a lot of fans. Just so we can go to a park where we can bring in not only their fans but also ours, I think it’s a good idea to play at Lagoon.
“It’s a good experience. It gives us a lot of exposure. Hopefully, we can win another conference (tournament title) and we’ll see teams like that, so it just gets us ready to compete in the (NCAA) regionals.”
Core, a senior from Benecia, Calif., is two home runs shy of the school career record with a .329 batting average, 8 home runs and 26 RBIs this season. First baseman Perry Hindi, of Prattville, is also among the top hitters with a .346 average, 4 home runs and 13 RBIs.
They will face an Auburn team led by Team USA member Kasey Cooper (.296, 6 HR, 30 RBI), catcher Carlee Wallace (.360, 5 HR, 30 RBI) and pitcher Kaylee Carlson (16-1, 0.94 ERA).
“The big thing for our program is we got the chance to play (Florida) in the (NCAA) regionals last year,” Steiner-Wilcoxson said. “This year, we got the chance to play Alabama in the fall and now we play Auburn. We just wanted to show our kids what better competition can do to prepare you for when we get to the SWAC Tournament, for when we get the opportunity to go to regionals again.
“We are competing better this year with people and that makes me happy about our team and our program. We’re not star-struck or not so intimidated any more. We see what we’re doing wrong and we know what we need to work on and what it takes to compete.”
For Steiner-Wilcoxson, one of the most visible Auburn softball alumnae, the game will have an added special meaning as well.
Alabama State will receive “a majority” of the revenue generated by admission and concessions while having no expense. “Whatever revenue they would come up with would go to assist their program so we don’t want to take anything away from that,” Norman said. “Our crew will handle the field. They’ll have some responsibility as far as press box (duties).”
“I don’t think we have any limitations, it’s just pursuing those teams,” Norman said. “It’s a great promotion for the game, it’s great for the city and if we can help the schools’ programs, it allows us to do that. It’s just a matter of getting out there and finding the teams that would come.
“Tournaments are events that we would like to go after. We’ve secured the initial Gulf South Conference crossover event in 2018 and we are very honored to have that. That will be a huge event for Lagoon.”
Alabama State, meanwhile, has hopes of expanding its complex soon as Steiner-Wilcoxson continues to pursue big-name opponents, including a visit from Mississippi State in 2018.
“We would like to do that every year,” she said. “I think the better our program gets, if you keep winning championships, we have great facilities and really want to bring in top-caliber opponents.”