Jones, Tigers Hoping For Success In NCAA Tourney

Auburn, Ala.-Paige Jones is looking for a strong finish for her team's season and her career as a power-hitting Auburn softball player.

The senior from Thompson High in Alabaster, who is hitting a very impressive .378 with 13 homers, nine doubles and 45 runs batted in, hopes to extend her collegiate playing days as long as possible as the Tigers begin NCAA Regional Tournament competition on their home field.

The Tigers, the two-seed in the four-team regional at Jane B. Moore Field on the Auburn campus, open the tournament at 5 p.m. CDT as they face ACC runnerup Florida State.

"We are really excited about playing in the regional on our own field," says Jones. She notes that Auburn being able to serve as host for a regional for the first time in school history is a sign that the program is making strides.

Coach Tina Deese's team brings a 49-16 record into the 64-team tournament. Auburn will play an FSU team that is 33-26.

In the second game of the regional, No. 1 seed Baylor will hit the field at 7:30 p.m. with a 47-12 record to face Florida A&M, which is 37-31.

The winner of Auburn's game plays at noon on Saturday vs. the winner of game two. The losers of Friday's games play at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday with the loser of that contest being eliminated from the double-elimination tournament.

Jones says she believes her team, which is ranked 20th this week, has the ability to win the regional even though it features a Baylor team ranked 10th in this week's poll.

"We have good team chemistry this year," Jones points out. "We get along a lot better than we did last year. Also, we are hitting the ball well. We have improved a lot in that area since last season."

As a team, the Tigers are hitting an impressive .312 this season. That is a major jump from 2004 when the Tigers hit .256 while posting a 42-18 record. That team came up short in the NCAA Regional played at Stanford, losing 1-0 to Hofstra and 3-1 to Fresno State.

Jones credits the team's first-year hitting coach, Jack Byerley, with making a positive difference. Jones herself has made dramatic improvement. She hit just .219 with two homers and eight RBI as a junior.

The Auburn senior says the key to success for her team will be to stay strong at the plate and to play well defensively throughout the weekend. "We had some holes in our defense in the SEC Tournament that hurt us and we have been working on that in practice," she says. "Florida State is a real speedy team and it is important that we play well in the field."

Jones says the Tigers are familiar with Baylor. Auburn lost 2-0 to the Bears last season in the Getterman Classic, an early season tournament held at Baylor's home field in Waco, Tex.

There will be two games on Friday and three on Saturday, concluding with a 7:30 p.m. contest pitting the two remaining teams with one loss.

On Sunday at 1 p.m., the team that has won its first two games plays the other other remaining team and can win the regional in that contest. However, a second game will be played at 3:30 p.m. if needed.

This will be the third NCAA regional for Auburn, a team that began competition in softball in 1997. Auburn is 0-4 in NCAA play and looking to do something about that against an FSU team that is 29-22, a Baylor team that is 2-1 and a Florida A&M squad that is 1-8 in regionals.

Jones is one of five AU starters hitting better than .300. Holly Currie leads the group at .386 and has a team-leading 16 homers. She is also a key pitcher with a 24-9 record and a 1.97 earned run average.

Sara Dean is hitting .360 with eight homers, Kristina McCain is hitting .350 with six homers and Sara Ghezzi is battling .333 with four home runs.

Beth DiPietro is 22-7 as a pitcher with a 2.24 earned run average.

Baylor is hitting .324 as a team and holding opponents to .228 with a team earned run average of 2.20. The Bears, who play in the Big 12 Conference, have good power with 54 homers while Auburn has 67.

FSU is hitting .247 as a team and holding opponents to a .214 batting average. FSU has hit 24 home runs. Pitching is a team strength with a 1.81 earned run average.

Florida A&M is hitting .274 as a team and opponents are batting .273 vs. the Lady Rattlers. The team ERA is 3.25 and the MEAC school has a dozen homers.

Tickets will be available at the box office at Jane B. Moore Field. Jones hopes Auburn fans will enjoy the first-ever NCAA regional on the AU campus. "There is no doubt that I am excited," she says. "It is going to be the thrill of my life."

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