Tallahassee, Fla.--With a history dating back to coaching against one another in junior college baseball and together at Birmingham-Southern in the early 90’s, Auburn Coach Butch Thompson and Tennessee Tech’s Matt Bragga have their teams in the winner’s bracket game of the Tallahassee Regional on Saturday where they will face each other for the first time as head coaches.
“One of my good friends, Brian Shoop (UAB Head Coach) hired me at Birmingham-Southern, but I am convinced that without Butch Thompson telling Brian Shoop ‘hey you really need to look at Matt Bragga’, I’m convinced I may not have been the guy for the job,” Bragga said. “Butch definitely got my foot in the door no doubt about it. I love that guy. Great guy.”
Winning earlier in the day 7-4 over UCF, Auburn’s coaches watched the nightcap as Tennessee Tech shut down Florida State’s offense in a 3-1 win. Now preparing to turn around and face Auburn tomorrow, Bragga said it’s exciting to think about going up against one of his closest friends in the business.
“It is special but there’s an unwritten rule that Coach Shoop taught me,” Bragga said. “You don’t like playing your friends because somebody has to lose. You might as well try to play somebody you don’t know as well because that’s not as big of a deal.
“That’s the only bad thing about tomorrow is somebody has to lose. It is fantastic to be going head-to-head with Butch Thompson, who I admire and respect so much as a baseball coach, but even more as a human being.”
The first order of business for both teams is to get back down to business following big first day wins and regroup for a big Saturday. Bragga said that’s something his team has done well all season long and he believes even in the NCAA Tournament that will be no different.
“I think our guys are pretty good at that,” Bragga said. “When you’re fighting for conference championships and tournament championships within our conference you get practice at that. It may not be against the names, the Auburn’s or the Florida State’s, but it’s the same thing.”
One of the top offensive teams in the country with 97 home runs and a .320 team batting average entering Friday night’s game, Tennessee Tech was held in check much of the night by a freshman left-hander from Florida State using a slow breaking ball to keep them off balance.
Saturday’s opposition will be the polar opposite with sophomore Casey Mize expected to take the mound for Auburn. With a record of 7-2 on the season and an ERA of 1.93, Mize has struck out 97 and walked just eight this season in 74 ? innings. Bragga said Mize will definitely be a challenge for his club.
“We get to face a guy tomorrow night that may be one of the very best in the country,” Bragga said. “Mize is phenomenal. I told Butch ‘hey, you don’t need to throw him against us’. We get an opportunity tomorrow to go against one of the finest in the country. We’re excited for the challenge and we’ll see what it brings.”
Tennessee Tech will counter with senior RHP Jake Usher. Entering the regional with a 5-2 record and an ERA of 5.48 in 14 starts, Usher has 68 hits in 69 innings with 56 strikeouts and 32 walks.
Bragga said Usher has been the guy all year for the Golden Eagles and he’s the guy for the job once again.
“He’s been our game two starter all year,” Bragga said. “Jake is a good, good arm and a great young man. He’s a warrior and a bulldog. We look forward to Jake going out there.”
Auburn and Tennessee Tech will play at 6 p.m. central time with the Tigers winning Friday night’s coin flip to be the home team. Coverage is scheduled on-line at espn3.
Regional Schedule (All Times CDT)
Friday, June 2
Game 1 – UCF vs. Auburn – 11 a.m.
Game 2 – Florida State vs. Tennessee Tech – 5 p.m.
Saturday, June 3
Game 3 – Florida State vs. UCF – 11 a.m.
Game 4 – Auburn vs. Tennessee Tech – 6 p.m.
Sunday, June 4
Game 5 – Game 3 winner & Game 4 loser – Noon
Game 6 – Game 4 winner & Game 5 winner – 6 p.m.
Monday, June 5
Game 7 - If necessary – 6 p.m.