Auburn softball vs. Florida

Auburn head coach Mickey Dean visits with his players during a pause in the action on Saturday during the Tigers' softball game against Florida on Saturday at Jane B. Moore Field in Auburn. (Justin Lee/jlee@oanow.com)

The Auburn softball team learned plenty about itself in its first game out on the diamond last weekend.

Then the Tigers dusted themselves off, and learned even more in their second game.

Auburn got knocked down in its season opener but immediately bounced right back to win three straight last weekend — and now, entering tonight’s home opener, the Tigers are working to build from those ups and downs from last weekend, eager to keep growing through challenge as the season kicks into gear.

Auburn hosts Kennesaw State at 6 p.m. tonight at Jane B. Moore Field, kicking off a loaded weekend for softball on the Plains. Friday through Sunday, Auburn will host the Plainsman Invitational welcoming in Alabama State and UNC-Wilmington for games each of those days.

Auburn stands 3-2 early this season after facing a loaded field at NFCS Leadoff Classic last weekend in Clearwater, Fla. Auburn got blasted by Baylor 8-0 in a run-rule loss to open the weekend, but then rebounded to beat a solid Notre Dame team 4-1. Auburn went on to beat Liberty 5-3 and top Texas State 3-1 on Saturday before capping last Sunday with a 2-0 loss to Illinois.

Position battles are open across the field for Auburn. Plenty of the team’s younger players could see playing time this weekend as they fight for spots, Auburn head coach Mickey Dean said.

And for Auburn, the mission is still to wear those lumps and use adversity to improve knowing the tough schedule that lays ahead in SEC play.

“We saw how good we could be and how bad we could be,” Dean said earlier this week. “When we put together a plan and they executed it, they did a very nice job. When they got outside of that and didn’t execute, we saw that in the Illinois game – especially offensively.

“But there’s a lot of good things that we can do. That’s the bright side. It’s one of those first tournaments that you can go and play in an easy tournament or you can play in one that’s going to challenge you a little bit. I just felt that we needed to be challenged.”

Auburn is heading off to another one of those challenging tournaments in California later in February featuring defending national champion UCLA and a group of other Pac 12 powers.

This weekend, Auburn hopes to find its footing on its home field, and see several younger players make their case for fits in the playing rotation.

“There’s a lot of talent,” senior third baseman Tannon Snow said. “They like to be challenged, and they’ve learned that from this senior class. We love that challenge. Coach Dean tells us that your spot out there is not your spot. We go out every practice and work hard to earn that spot.”

Auburn’s 24-player roster features 13 newcomers including nine freshmen.

“Especially from the fall until now, their hitting is better,” senior pitcher Ashlee Swindle said of the youngsters. “Their knowledge of the game is a lot better. They communicate well. I think they are going to play a big role this year.”

After tonight’s game against Kennesaw State, Auburn on Friday plays UNC-Wilmington at 2:30 p.m. and then plays Alabama State at 5 p.m.

On Saturday Auburn plays Alabama State first at 2:30 p.m. then plays UNC-Wilmington at 5 p.m.

Auburn wraps up its weekend Sunday at 11 a.m. against UNC-Wilmington.

Alabama State and UNC-Wilmington will play each other at Jane B. Moore Field at noon on Friday and at noon on Saturday.

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