Tiger Boss Satisfied With Regional Destination

Auburn baseball coach Steve Renfroe talks about the Tigers' trip to Tuscaloosa for this weekend's NCAA Regional.

Auburn, Ala.--The announcement that the Auburn Tigers had been selected for the 2002 NCAA Baseball Tournament didn't come as a surprise to the 50 or so people crowded into Auburn's locker room at Plainsman Park on Monday. What was surprising to most was the destination for this Tiger team, Tuscaloosa--the home of the arch-rival Crimson Tide from Alabama.

Auburn (34-24) goes into the regional as the No. 2 seed and will face the dangerous Florida Atlantic Owls (43-18) in the first round Friday afternoon at 1:30. The winner will most likely have to face top-seed Alabama (48-13) in the second round after its matchup with Southeast Missouri State (36-18).

No matter who the Tigers face, Auburn coach Steve Renfroe said after the announcement that his team has to be ready the first day or else the game everyone is looking forward to won't take place at all.

"I told someone a few weeks ago," Renfroe said on his thoughts on regionals leading up to today, "that Clemson, Tallahassee and Tuscaloosa were the three places that I would like to go. I just thought we would go somewhere first because of the league and then match us up in Tuscaloosa. But we've been there. I think it's fine. We've got to play a good Florida Atlantic team and that's probably the biggest hurdle. Being that we're going to our arch-rival's, that's all anybody wants to talk about, but we're going to play a great team in the first round. That's what we have to train our guys to do is focus on that."

One advantage Auburn will have in the first-round game is familiarity. Having just played a three-game series at Sewell-Thomas Field on the Alabama campus in April, the Tigers have a sense of both the ballpark and the surroundings in Tuscaloosa. However, that could be outweighed by the disadvantage of having the majority of fans in the stands cheering against you at every turn, but Renfroe said that's something this team is used to.

"I think they are confident, but I don't think that will be the focus," Renfroe noted. "Whoever we play after game one will have the home team crowd because every person there from Alabama will root against us at every game. That's a built in and I think we're used to that. That's just a way of life in this state. We've been on the road in hostile places. The one thing that this team has done, whether good or bad, is they show up to play. Whether we've played well or not, there's never been an intimidation factor or a lack of preparation. It was just that we didn't play well."

Now all that is left is a short week of preparation and to play the games. For Auburn that means trying to win a first-round game vs. a team that is a relative unknown at this time. While everyone will focus on Auburn going to Tuscaloosa and ask the question ‘Why Tuscaloosa?' Renfroe said he didn't have the answer either but it doesn't really matter in the long run. As one of the teams in only two possible major conferences that have possible sub-regional matchups, the Tigers will just worry about what they can control and let the chips fall where they may.

"Honestly, I don't know and I couldn't even go down that road...I really don't try to focus on anything else. Our task has been laid out. If I'm focused on some other regional then I'm saying, ‘we can't win.' If we're going to be any good we're going to have to beat somebody good anyway. That doesn't bother me. We wouldn't be going to Clemson and those other places if that stuff bothered me."

Levale Speigner is expected to pitch on Friday for the Tigers.

Tiger Ticket Extra: This is Auburn's ninth trip to an NCAA Regional in the last 10 seasons and second-straight under head coach Steve Renfroe...Auburn has a 32-21 all-time record in 14 NCAA Baseball Tournament regional appearances...Florida Atlantic had a streak of 27 consecutive wins during this season and has victories over such notable teams as Rutgers and UCLA...Auburn and Florida Atlantic have never met in NCAA Baseball Tournament competition.


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