Tigers Traveling West For NCAA Tournament Tests

The Auburn softball team learned where it would be playing in an NCAA tournament regional on Sunday night.

Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn softball team, which earlier on Sunday fell one game short of playing for the SEC Tournament title and has already broken the school record for wins with 42, was awarded the second seed in the Stanford regional in Palo Alto, California and will face off with the seventh-seeded Hofstra Pride.

Hofstra, the Colonial Athletic Association champions, will face the Tigers on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. Central Time (12:30 p.m. Pacific time).

Auburn coach Tina Deese said she is excited about her team's seeding in the regional. "Stanford is a good place," she noted. "When they had announced the sites that was one of my first preferences. The field that we have drawn--we don't have any slouches over there, but I think we can compete and we are excited about it."

The Auburn players erupted earlier with glee during the selection show when they noticed they would not be headed south to Tallahassee, Florida for a second time and Tigers' ace hurler Kristen Keyes said that coupled with other factors make this a thrilling time for herself and her teammates.

"I am excited about it," Keyes said. "There is one team in there, Pacific, we have already seen them once this year. We lost to them by one run so I think we are anxious to play them and get that back, but we have grown and matured so much as a team this year that whoever we face I have no doubt we will do a great job. Everyone's spirits are high. We are all running high and I think we all want this real bad."

Third baseman Kristina McCain (left), pitcher Kristen Keyes (center) and pitcher Beth DiPietro (right) celebrate after learning Auburn will be heading out west for its NCAA regional.

The Tigers head into the regional coming off of their best ever performance in the SEC Tournament and Deese said that should be a big boost to her team in its quest to make it to the College World Series that will be played in Oklahoma City.

"I think our conference tournament helped prepare us for the next step," the coach said. "To come off a grueling tournament like that with the conditions and stuff that we played with, I think--it sure doesn't get any easier from here, but we sure can't, in terms of conditions, face a whole lot worse than what we have been through to this point."

In the SEC Tournament, Auburn got exceptional pitching from Keyes as well as freshmen Holly Currie and Beth DiPietro. Keyes, a senior, explained that having the freshmen step up like that will be key in regional play. "Really, it is a great feeling because all weekend we used all of our pitchers and we all had great performances," Keyes said. "So, I think it is really good knowing that if one is down there are two more to back each other up."

Along with strong pitching the Tigers made some strides at the plate in the conference tournament and catcher Sara Dean said that she thinks that trend could even be improved in the regional by facing some new competition on the mound.

"When you know the people that you are hitting against--when you know you are going to hit against Monica Abbot (Tennessee) or Kristen Schmidt (LSU), regardless of how confident you are or how good of a hitter you are that is still in the back of your head because you know they are good," Dean explains. "So, you have got to think about it or you are like this is what she pitched to me last time, what am I expecting this time when you have played them one or two games the whole season."

At the SEC Tournament, junior Paige Jones was a unanimous selection to the all-tournament team as the designated player.

The teams that will compete in the Stanford regional are: (1) Stanford 43-16; (2) Auburn 42-15; (3) Fresno State 47-18; (4) Pacific 34-21; (5) Southern Mississippi 32-24; (6) Southern Illinois 42-15; (7) Hofstra 34-19; (8) Utah 23-31.

The double elimination tournament begins on Thursday at noon Central time with the Fresno State and Southern Illinois match-up. Then, Auburn and Hofstra square off in game two at 2:30 p.m. CDT. In the second session, Pacific and Southern Mississippi meet at 5 p.m. CDT and Stanford takes on Utah at 7:30 p.m. CDT.

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