Everyone in the room expected the Seminoles to be the top seed, but when LSU and Georgia Tech were announced, spirits began to lift among the players and coaches that the Tigers would be one of the top eight seeds in the tournament.
The team didn't have to wait long as Auburn appeared on the screen of the television bringing shouts of joy from the team and coaching staff. Paired with Princeton, which is the number four seed in the region, and number two Clemson (38-20) along with number three Ohio State (41-19), Auburn had accomplished its goal of being a top seed. That gives the Tigers a chance to reach Omaha and the College World Series without ever leaving home.
Senior Bobby Huddleston says that he's thrilled to be able to play at home for the right to make it to Omaha. "You don't want to be surprised, but you have to be with the number four seed," Huddleston says. "It makes you think of how good of a season we really had. You really don't pay attention to it until you see something like this at the end of the year. It tells you either that we have that nice of a stadium or they think something good about us. It was pretty cool to see us up that high and pretty remarkable.
"It's going to be nice," Huddleston adds about playing at home. "It's going to be huge. Just playing at home, it has a huge influence. I don't know what it is, but last year a lot of the teams that made it to the World Series I think they all hosted. Hopefully, if we can play some great baseball and put it all together we can keep playing for another week."
Unlike some teams around the country that chose to play an easy schedule in the hopes that a padded record would get them the attention they needed to become a host site, Auburn did it the hard way in 2003 by playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Finishing with a record of 40-19, the Tigers played 34 games against teams that received bids to the NCAA Tournament, finishing with a record of 19-15 in those contests. In all, Auburn faced 12 teams that will be playing in the postseason, roughly one-fifth of the field for the tournament.
"We knew coming in that we were going to have a tough schedule," senior pitcher Levale Speigner says. "Coach Renfroe said all along that it was going to prepare us for late in the season. Everything that we have done to this point has really prepared us for what we're going to see now. We've had tough teams on our schedule, we've seen Clemson and had some tough games against them. Hopefully, we'll get to see them again."
One of the big topics of conversation following the announcements was the lack of credence given to the play in the SEC Tournament. Garnering the number four national seed while South Carolina is a two seed and must travel to Atlanta, it's obvious that Auburn's regular season and RPI rating had the Tigers on solid ground all along.
What is strange is Florida receiving an at-large bid into the tournament despite not making it to Hoover for the SEC Baseball Tournament last week. Their inclusion left out Vanderbilt, which finished ahead of the Gators in the SEC, but not in the RPI standings. While the debate will go on as to whether the conference tournament means anything, Huddleston says the main thing it did for his team was to gain some confidence and play more quality competition.
"We got to play a Vanderbilt team with a great left-handed pitcher," Huddleston notes. "We got to play Alabama twice in front of 13,000 people and South Carolina. We played some good teams and that's a lot better than practicing. We would rather play against a quality opponent than practice and that's what we did last week."
Now the Tigers will get back to work and prepare to face the 27-21 Princeton Tigers in the opening game at 6:30 CDT Friday night. Knowing the feelings he had last season following a loss in the first round of the NCAA regional to Florida Atlantic, third baseman Scott Schade says getting the overall number four seed won't mean anything unless they win the games.
"That's pretty impressive," Schade says of the seeding. "That's something we've been working for all year. It's good that we got it, but we have to do our job in our regional to even make that super regional worth anything. We have to get ready for that."