The second-seed in the regional behind Florida State, Auburn will face nemesis South Alabama in the opening game of the regional at noon CDT on Friday (1 p.m. EDT in Tallahassee). Senior Ben Sprague says that possibly getting to play both the Jaguars and Seminoles to advance to a Super Regional is a dream come true for this Auburn team.
"Of course, we lost two of three in Tallahassee, but we should have won that series," Sprague contends. "We couldn't have gotten a better pick. South Alabama beat us once this year. We want Florida State really bad. It's unbelievable that we got the regional we wanted. It's going to be a fun weekend."
It wasn't a shoo-in that Auburn would even be in a regional this week after finishing 32-24 overall with a record in Southeastern Conference play of 13-17, but because of a strong RPI and a very strong non-conference schedule the Tigers were in good shape all along. That didn't keep seniors like Arnold Hughey from worrying about it all week in practice.
"We've been waiting all week for today basically," senior pitcher Arnold Hughey notes. "We knew we were on the bubble really. I think Mississippi State going and winning the tournament kind of helped the whole league out by showing how strong the league was. It got us a number two seed and we're going to Tallahassee now."
Auburn third baseman Josh Donaldson is all smiles after seeing his team's name called for the NCAA Tournament.
Tallahassee is a familiar setting for Auburn baseball as the Tigers have been there five times in postseason play alone since 1976. Included in that is a stretch of three-straight seasons from 1997-1999. That gives the city a comfort level for some fans, but many will feel that because it's close to home. There are four regulars on the team (Clete Thomas, Ben Sprague, John Madden, Jeff Boutwell), along with Hughey, giving Auburn some much-needed fan support in what should be a hostile environment this weekend.
"There's going to be a ton of Auburn fans there," Sprague predicts. "It seems like 75 percent of the team is from around that area or somewhere close. Just with the fan support and family and friends it's going to be awesome. I'm just in awe right now.
"It will be a fight for tickets for everybody," Thomas adds. "For me and (Jeff) Boutwell we're about an hour and a half away. I know a lot of other guys are from Central Florida. It's right in the middle for everybody."
From not too far away is third baseman Josh Donaldson along with pitcher Cliff Mullins. Both freshmen, they got a bad taste in their mouths early this season with the loss to South Alabama. Donaldson says while that is something they think about it won't matter once Friday's game begins because it's all about advancing in the NCAA Tournament.
"It's a great thing for our team," Donaldson says. "We've worked hard all year and it's finally paying off. Hopefully, we can get hot at the right time. I'm just excited about the regional. Our team has worked so hard and we really deserve this. We're going to come and play hard from now on."
The task is a tough one for the Tigers this weekend as Florida State is a regional host for the 22nd time in the last 23 seasons and for the ninth season in a row. The Seminoles don't lose often at home and very rarely in NCAA Regional play, but it has happened and Auburn has done it as recently as 1997.
Even though this current team had no part in what happened in postseason games the Tigers have at Dick Howser Stadium, catcher Josh Bell says they hope to use it as motivation to make a few lasting memories themselves.
"We've got a lot of history there," Bell says. "It's really going to be a lot of fun to go back down there and see what we can do. I have seen the tapes of David Ross and the home run (1997). Hopefully, we can create a little bit of our own history down there."