Led by a strong pitching staff, some talented veterans and an influx of freshmen ready to get the job done, the Tigers tackled the toughest schedule in the country in 2003. Names like Clete Thomas, Josh Bell, Chris Dennis and Derek Sain emerged onto the scene as freshmen, as did junior college transfer Karl Amonite, but it was the veteran leadership that made the difference in the season.
Bobby Huddleston developed into a strong hitter for the Tigers.
Despite having just three seniors, the team stayed on the same page all season and displayed a unity that kept them together when the team struggled. A big reason for that happening can be credited to catcher Bobby Huddleston, pitcher Levale Speigner and infielder Josh Todd. Showing the younger players the work ethic and attitude necessary to succeed on the next level, they set the bar for next year's senior class to live up to.
"They took us to a new level," Auburn Coach Steve Renfroe said of his small senior class. "Bobby has been as good of a leader as I have ever been around. He's kind of been a buffer for me. He's the guy that kind of loosens everything up, and yet he's focused all the time in intense situations. He doesn't let my intensity affect the team as much because he's always got the right thing to say. That's what you need out of a great ball club.
"Gosh, Levale, what a way to go out. Josh played hurt all year. He had a torn labrum, that's why he couldn't play in the middle infield. He said, ‘I'll do whatever I can,' so he was our backup at first and pinch ran. Those guys have been just super guys. I'll miss them deeply. That's the hardest thing about a season is when you lose guys like that."
Levale Speigner ended his career with an NCAA Tournament pitching victory.
A Montgomery native who started his career at Tennessee, Huddleston has been a fixture in the Auburn batting order for the last two seasons and responded with outstanding numbers. For his career he hit .314 with 26 home runs and 154 runs batted in and also added 56 doubles and 74 walks in his career.
Speigner, a vital part of Auburn's pitching staff since arriving as a freshman, had one of the best seasons in Tiger baseball history this season. Coming out of the bullpen to start the season, he moved into the starting rotation and quickly became the go-to guy for the team. Finishing the year 10-0 with a 2.27 ERA, he ended his career with 28 wins, which is good enough for sixth on the all-time list. His 370 innings pitched is third all-time while he is in the Top 10 in games pitched (87) and games started (51).
Todd, a little used junior college transfer, was expected to get more playing time this season until he was injured. He still managed to be a productive player for the Tigers this season in a limited role. Like Huddleston and Speigner, Todd was a very important player for this team behind the scenes.
Javon Moran's speed and hitting will be missed if he decides to go pro.
In addition to the three seniors, there is also a strong possibility that junior center fielder Javon Moran has seen his last action on the Plains. Expected to be a Top 10 round selection in Major League Baseball's Amateur Draft, the speedy Moran will likely get enough money to say goodbye to Auburn and begin his professional career.
"I really don't know," Moran said when asked what his plans were. "When Wednesday (the second day of the draft) comes I'll see what happens."
A clutch player who was at his best in the toughest of times, Moran earned All-Regional honors for his play last weekend. He was 8-17 in the four games with a double, two triples and four runs scored. In three seasons he has 20 hits in 45 regional at-bats with four doubles and eight runs scored. Moran is currently seventh on Auburn's all-time hits list with 267, fifth in singles with 203, third in singles with 13 and fourth in stole bases with 66.