Softball fans turn out to watch Auburn top Alabama State
By Tim Gayle
The game might not have turned out quite the way Chris Steiner-Wilcoxson was hoping, but the Alabama State softball coach certainly couldn’t complain about the environment.
A crowd estimated at 1,500 turned out at Lagoon Park Softball Complex Field No. 6 to watch the Hornets battle the Auburn Tigers on Wednesday night and even a 14-1 loss to the Southeastern Conference power was quickly put on the backburner as the second-year coach and her players lingered on the field to sign autographs for hundreds of younger softball fans.
“I’m happy for the community of Montgomery because that was the big thing, trying to get the fans out to see two college teams,” Steiner-Wilcoxson said. “I like to see the stands packed. I’m really proud of both teams. I’m proud of our team for fighting and competing. Things didn’t go quite our way, but they competed the whole game.”
The majority of the fans were there to see Auburn and coach Clint Myers said it never gets old, watching his players mingle with the fans after a game.
“We’re a state school,” Myers said. “These people’s taxes pay my salary and provide the money for our scholarships, so we’ve got to give back. We’re the lucky ones, playing a game we love and have passion for. It takes 15 minutes to put a smile on somebody’s face and these girls are starting to understand they are role models for a lot of people, people they’ve never met.”
It was the first trip to the Capital City for a major college softball team since Auburn and Alabama played on the same field in 2014 and while nothing ever equals an Iron Bowl matchup in any sport, Wednesday’s meeting was another reminder of the popularity of the sport.
Alabama State starter Vanessa Bradford held the Tigers in check for two innings, but ran into trouble in the third with four walks and an error as she struggled to get on the same page with the home plate umpire.
“The first couple of innings, it’s a good ballgame,” Steiner-Wilcoxson said. “When the (strike) zone kind of got tight, instead of helping ourselves we let it get to us and we started nit-picking a little in the zone. You definitely don’t want to pitch balls down the middle to a team like Auburn that you know is capable of putting the ball out at any time. We didn’t want to get away from our game plan but you can’t walk three or four people. I think that’s what came back and bit us.”
Three of the four walks – and Victoria Draper, who reached on a throwing error by Bradford – came around to score for a 4-0 lead. In the fourth, Kasey Cooper drove a pitch from reliever Justine Jean over the center field fence for a three-run home run and a 7-0 lead.
“There were some balls hit pretty well tonight,” Myers said. “It’s been a long time coming. The nice thing about it is we put some back to back to back hits together as well. The offense kind of came alive, we ran the bases aggressively, the defense was pretty good and the pitching, with Ash (Ashlee Swindle) and Jenna (Abbott), I thought they both did an outstanding job.”
Alabama State actually had more hits through the first five innings, but ran themselves out of innings on three occasions when the Hornets’ aggressive base running was no match for the alert Auburn defense.
“I think we were trying to stretch a little too much and not understanding who we were playing and that they compete against the best teams in the country,” Steiner-Wilcoxson said. “I admire our aggressiveness, I admire that the kids were pushing the envelope, but we kind of killed ourselves a couple of times with base-running mistakes.”
Wednesday’s game marked the final regular-season game in Montgomery for the Hornets and the final non-conference game for Auburn as both teams prepare for conference tournaments on May 10-13.