Since the NCAA Baseball Tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1999, Auburn hasn't had the record to challenge for one of the nation's top seeds. That was the case this season and after playing one of the nation's toughest schedules, Auburn was rewarded with the number four overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and will be a host for a regional this weekend and a super regional the next week if the Tigers can win this week's tournament. That is something that Renfroe says he wasn't sure would happen after talking with several people in the know earlier in the day.
"We were prepared in a way, but I was shocked," Renfroe says. "You're always hearing things and somebody called and said they heard we weren't (a national seed). I thought we would be a four or five based on RPI and then I thought I don't really know how they do it, so maybe we'll be an eight. I know our RPI was like a three our four, so I thought maybe we'll be an eight. Then someone called and said Miami was the eight. When they said four, I was a little shocked. I was excited."
While Auburn's season wasn't overwhelming in terms of wins and losses, the schedule the Tigers faced and conquered was among the tops in the country. Facing perennial powerhouses like Clemson, Georgia Tech and South Alabama in addition to tournament regulars like Virginia Commonwealth and North Carolina all before opening SEC play, Renfroe says his team chose to play the toughest available opponents and it paid off with a national seed.
"I was told so many times how it was unwise and we shouldn't do it," Renfroe says. "We rolled the dice to put that schedule together in the third year where we were at. I think a lot of people really questioned it, but these kids went out and did it on the field. It's nice to see that it was honored by the committee. I think that speaks volumes for what they did."
Sean Gamble dives back to first ahead of the tag of Clemson first baseman Michael Johnson. Auburn took two of three from the CU Tigers earlier in the year.
Renfroe's Tigers now turn their attention to Princeton and preparing for the opening game of the regional. While many will look ahead to a possible rematch with Clemson in the second round, this team has to look no further than last season's opening game in the Tuscaloosa regional to be reminded what can happen in college baseball.
Renfroe says he's also reminded this year's team several times of that 1995 team that was 47-11 heading into the NCAAs. Riding high after rolling through the SEC with a record of 19-8, the Tigers almost lost the first game of the regional to Penn of the Ivy League, holding on for a 2-1 victory. Those thoughts will be pounded into the heads of the players this week and should keep this team on an even keel when play opens on Friday against the 2003 Ivy League champ Princeton Tigers.
"I think our kids are excited," Renfroe says. "We're here this week. If we go out and play really well we're going to have a real good shot of winning the thing. We're going to have to beat a couple of good teams to do it. You've got three teams in here that think they can win it. We saw that with Florida Atlantic last year. I do think regionals are more evenly matched than they have been."
Tiger Ticket Extra: This is Auburn's 16th NCAA regional appearance and it is the seventh season in a row the Tigers have advanced to postseason play. This is the third time Auburn has been a host for a regionalin NCAA play with 1978 and 1999 the other two years. In 1978 the Tigers defeated Memphis State in the first game before losing back-to-back games to North Carolina and Memphis State to be eliminated. In 1999, Auburn won the regional with a victory over Tulane 13-9 in the final game. The Tigers advanced to play Florida State in Tallahassee, but were eliminated in two games.
Auburn has faced both Clemson and Ohio State in postseason play. In 1994 Auburn defeated Clemson at Clemson's home field 11-5 on the way to a College World Series berth, but two other times the purple Tigers have eliminated Auburn from regional play. Overall, Auburn is 3-3 versus Clemson in NCAA postseason competition. In 1995 the Tigers beat Ohio State 8-6 in Oklahoma City, but lost to Oklahoma in the final game. That 1995 season was the first and only number one seed for a Tiger team until this season's selection.
Clemson (38-20) takes on number three seed Ohio State in the first game of Friday's play at 2:30 p.m. Clemson enters the NCAAs with only six wins in its last 13 games. Among those losses are two to Duke, North Carolina and Furman with the other loss coming to Elon. Ohio State won its second straight Big 10 Tournament Championship with a victory over Minnesota in the title game. This is the Buckeyes' 16th NCAA Tournament appearance.
Auburn will face the Princeton Tigers in the night's final game at 6:30. Princeton comes in with 27 wins on the season, the second most in the school's 139-year history of baseball. The Tigers started the season 2-10 before opening Ivy League play and are just 12-16 outside of the league. They are 1-9 against tournament teams this season with the only victory coming over North Carolina.