Tigers Look To Bag Owls In NCAA Regional

Auburn, Ala.--For the ninth time in 10 seasons the Auburn Tigers (34-24) will be making a trip to a NCAA baseball regional as they travel across the state to Tuscaloosa for a first round matchup with the Florida Atlantic Owls (38-23) Friday afternoon at 1:30.

The winner will face the winner of the game between top-seeded Alabama (43-17) and #4 seed Southeast Missouri State (26-32), which is scheduled to start at 6:30 on Friday night. The winner's bracket game will take place on Saturday at 3 p.m. while the loser's bracket begins play Saturday morning at 11.

Auburn hopes to continue a history of winning performances in regional play with a 32-21 overall record in 14 previous regional appearances. The Tigers have also been one of the more consistent winners in the SEC in recent years with their nine regional appearances in the last decade second to only LSU's perfect 10-for-10 record.

If the Tigers hope to make their fourth trip to Omaha for the College World Series almost certainly need to get off to a good start this weekend and that means a victory over the dangerous Owls. A team that had a 27-game winning streak during the 2002 season, Florida Atlantic comes into the Tuscaloosa regional having won just nine of their last 21 games. With a 5-8 record against 2002 NCAA regional teams, Florida Atlantic has proven it can get the job done against top-notch competition.

While there is no question the Owls are a solid ball club there is still the uncertainty of who they will pitch against the Tigers. Travis NeSmith, a 6-3, 200 lefty with a 7-2 record and a 4.17 earned run average, is expected to get the start even though he is FAU's No. 3 starter.

Right-handers Danny Core and Chris Pillsbury were listed as probable starters earlier in the week. With a record of 8-4 on the season with an ERA 2.98, Core has allowed just 88 hits and 31 earned runs in 93 and two/thirds innings. Pillsbury has been nearly as tough with a 9-2 record and 4.03 ERA this season. In 96 innings he has allowed 97 hits and 43 earned runs while striking out 80.

Pitching is a strength of this Florida Atlantic team, but it's not the strength. That would be at the plate where the Owls have made a habit out of pounding the opposition with the long ball. Hitting .330 as a team this year, they have hit 83 home runs and allowed just 29. That onslaught is led by Mike Cox, who has 17 home runs and 62 runs batted in while hitting for a .344 average. Leading the Owls at the plate is Gabe Somarriba, who has a .350 average with seven home runs, 58 runs scored and 44 runs batted in. For the year he has reached base 50.5 percent of the time.

Levale Speigner started the opening game of last year's NCAA regional.

Faced with the task of keeping them in check is junior Levale Speigner for Auburn. With a 7-6 record and a 4.65 ERA, Speigner hasn't had the type of junior season he was looking for but with the season on the line there is nobody the Auburn coaching staff feels better about on the mound than Speigner. Just one inning shy of becoming the eighth Auburn player in school history with 300-plus innings pitched, his experience should come in handy on Friday for the young Tiger squad.

Leading the way for the Tigers at the plate is sophomore center fielder Javon Moran. Hitting .358 for the year with three home runs, 40 runs batted in and a team-best 57 runs scored, the speedy Moran has been the catalyst for Auburn since being moved to the third spot in the batting order just over one month ago. In the last 12 games Moran is hitting .426 with hits in 11 of the games. During that span freshman second baseman Tug Hulett has been on a torrid pace as well with 18 hits in 50 at-bats and 13 runs batted in.

Should Auburn win it would likely face Alabama Saturday afternoon in a re-match of an earlier series in which the Crimson Tide swept the Tigers in Tuscaloosa. Auburn led both the Friday and Saturday games into the seventh inning only to see the Crimson Tide steal wins late.

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