With an overall record of 17-10 in NCAA Regionals as a two seed the Tigers don't mind being put in this position. In fact, the last two times the Tigers made it to Omaha and the College World Series they were as number two seeds in regionals. In 1997 that run went through Tallahassee and the Tigers are looking to get it started on the right foot Friday against in-state opponent South Alabama.
The Jaguars (35-25) comes into Friday's contest with a history of playing well against Auburn. South Alabama holds a decisive advantage in head-to-head play over the years and that was extended earlier this season when the Jaguars came to Plainsman Park and defeated Auburn 3-0. The starting pitcher in that game was P.J. Walters and he'll get the call again Friday as South Alabama's opening game starter.
With a record of 9-6 and an ERA of 4.00, he'll present a big challenge to the Tigers as they look to get into the winner's bracket of the tournament, a virtual must for a team without a successful number three starter.
At the plate for South Alabama, David Freese leads the way with a .371 average and has added six home runs and 47 runs batted in. While Freese has been solid this season there's little doubt that the catalyst for the Jaguars is Josh Morgan. Hitting .325, Morgan leads the team with 16 home runs, 52 RBI and 51 runs scored.
Morgan has added 10 stolen bases in 12 attempts and can change the game with one swing of the bat. Keeping Morgan from doing any big damage will be the key for Auburn's Arnold Hughey in game one if the Tigers hope to advance without a loss.
Arnold Hughey will get the first start of the regional for the Tigers.
If the Tigers defeat South Alabama they'll face the winner of the game between top-seeded Florida State (50-18) and fourth-seed Army (38-12). The Seminoles are the host of a regional for the ninth consecutive year and 22 of the last 23 years. This is FSU's 28th consecutive regional appearance overall so the Cadets have their hands full in the opener.
While they are young the Seminoles are loaded with experience in key spots. That is particularly true on the mound where Mark Sauls, Kevin Lynch, Matt DiBlasi and Tyler Chambliss all have experience in regional play. Despite those arms Coach Mike Martin has elected to start freshman Michael Hyde in the opener against Army. This season Hyde is 7-2 with a 4.48 ERA and leads the team with 16 starts.
Bryan Henry is expected to start the second game of the regional for the Seminoles and has established himself as FSU's go-to guy on the mound. The first-team All-ACC performer led the ACC in ERA and opponents batting average this season and has the fourth-best ERA in the country entering the regional.
At the plate FSU is led by all-everything outfielder Shane Robinson. Earlier this season Robinson had a school-record 40-game hitting streak and currently leads the team with a batting average of .439 with 91 runs scored, 118 hits, 25 doubles, four triples, five home runs, 40 runs batted in and 46 stolen bases.
Robinson is the ACC Player of the Year and is in contention for the national player of the year. He's the leader and most important offensive weapon for Florida State. Contain him and you go a long way towards getting a win against the Seminoles.
Even with Robinson's outstanding numbers the Seminoles enter the regional hitting just .294 as a team with 52 home runs. The leading power man is Gibbs Chapman with 10 homers while Daniel Wardell has nine. The Seminoles will run as evidenced by the 107 stolen bases this season. Playing at home they will have a decisive advantage if they can stay in the winner's bracket. To do that they'll have to defeat a scrappy Army squad with very good pitching in the opener.
Army's Nick Hill has been one of the top pitcher's in the country this season and will be a tough matchup for the Seminoles in the opener for both teams. On the year Hill is 10-1 in 12 starts with an ERA of just 1.22. With four complete games Hill has shown the ability to go deep into games and that could be important against Florida State. In 81 innings on the mound this season Hill has allowed 58 hits and has struck out 89 with only 14 walks. Number two starter Justin Kashner is no slouch as he's 9-3 with a 2.40 earned run average in 13 starts.
At the plate the Cadets, champions of the Patrio League, are led by powerful first baseman Walker Gorham. Named the National Player of the Week two weeks ago, Gorham leads the team with a .374 batting average, 10 home runs and 12 doubles. Close behind is Kyle Scogin, who is hitting .358 with three home runs and a team-leading 43 RBI. As a team Army is hitting .307 with 35 home runs.
The regional starts on Friday at noon central time with Auburn facing South Alabama. Florida State and Army follow at 6 p.m. CDT. The losers of game one and two play Saturday at noon followed by the winners again at 6 p.m.