None of those were current Tigers or their coaches, who have sung their worthiness on high since losing to Alabama in the regular season finale. When the word came down on ESPN that Auburn was in the Tallahassee bracket and would be facing South Alabama, senior Karl Amonite says it was like a weight had been lifted off him following a week of worry.
"It was a relief seeing our name up there," Amonite notes. "There was a lot of speculation on where we might be on the Internet, but I really didn't pay much attention to that. I know there was talk of Georgia Tech and Waco, Tex., and I'm not really sure where else. Once those names came up and we weren't on the list it still wasn't much to worry about because we're like 16th in the nation in RPI. We thought that would get us in for sure. Once it came up there was a lot of enthusiasm and excitement."
There were early signs that Auburn was in the tournament, one of which came when the Arkansas Razorbacks were selected as the number two seed at the Austin Regional in Texas. That is the same Arkansas team that Auburn won two of three from during the regular season and finished tied with in the SEC standings. Amonite says once he saw Arkansas in the field he knew they couldn't leave out Auburn.
"Once you see Arkansas up there, especially as a two seed, it made us feel like we had a really good shot," he says. "We didn't think it would be too long after that before we saw our name. Luckily it wasn't much longer."
A happy Karl Amonite following Auburn's selection into the NCAA Tournament.
With its selection Auburn became the third SEC team in the last three seasons to be selected to the 64-team field despite not making the conference tournament in Hoover. Two years ago Florida got the call as the seventh team and Vanderbilt, which made the tournament, was left at home. Last season Mississippi State got in as the ninth team with a 13-17 conference record.
Amonite says that in the long run it may help the Tigers to skip Hoover instead of the extra gaves needed to win the conference. "It's been tough because our goal is to make the SEC Tournament, but if we're going to make a regional anyway the SEC Tournament didn't really mean anything," he contends. "It was just kind of tough to wait around and see what the decisions were going to be by the committee. We really didn't know where we were going to be slotted. We knew we weren't a top eight national seed and we weren't going to host, but there was a lot of anticipation and we were elated when we saw our name pop up on the screen."
When play begins Friday at noon central time with Auburn facing South Alabama it will begin a weekend of familiar faces matching up in every dugout. The Tigers have already played both FSU and South Alabama this season, losing two of three to the Seminoles at Dick Howser Stadium and a single game to the Jaguars. In addition, a former familiar face around Plainsman Park is now on the coaching staff at Army, making the weekend a homecoming for quite a few around the Auburn program.
"We kind of know what they're going to do," Amonite says. "We saw Florida State's pitching because we played a three-game series with them. South Alabama, I'm pretty sure they're going to throw that guy they threw at us early on. It's kind of good for us because we know to expect. Actually our ex-volunteer (Brendan Dougherty) is coaching at Army so that should be fun, too."
Despite the relationships on all sides there's no doubt this weekend will be a competitive one for everyone involved. For Amonite and the Tigers that means trying to get Auburn back into a Super Regional for the first time since 1999. Ironically, that was also in Tallahassee. Amonite says that while the games will be tough the Tigers have some motivation to play well this weekend in addition to the rewards down the line.
"We have a lot of unfinished business going to Florida State, which is a great team," Amonite says. "That Saturday was kind of a tough loss for us because we lost it in the bottom of the ninth. They are a great team. South Alabama came here earlier this year and beat us as well. We're looking for some revenge against both of them and hopefully win the regional."