Morris And Tigers Ready For New Beginning

Auburn sophomore standout Hunter Morris talks about the upcoming baseball season.

Auburn, Ala.--Coming off of one of the most impressive freshman seasons in Auburn baseball history, sophomore slugger Hunter Morris and the Tigers open the season Friday, Feb. 20 at home against Elon to kick off the John Pawlowski era on the Plains.

With a new group of coaches and a new attitude, Morris says he likes what he's seen out of the team so far in practice and is ready to get things going in 2009.

"I'm really excited about this year," Morris says. "We've got a great group of core guys coming back and the new coaching staff really rolled right into it during the fall and got us working. There wasn't really a down period trying to make that adjustment. They got us into the flow of things.

"There is no reason for us not to come out and do what we're supposed to do here in a week and carry that hopefully through the end of June," he adds. "I'm just excited about the guys, the staff, everybody we've got coming back this year."

Coming from College of Charleston where he led his team to NCAA Tournament berths in three of his final five seasons, Pawlowski has brought a new feeling to the team, says Morris. Upbeat and energetic, the Tigers have already made some changes in the way things are done on the field and Morris notes it has had an impact on everyone.

"The coaching staff has done a good job of making everybody feel comfortable with the transition," he notes. "It has given us a whole new mentality on the way we're supposed to carry ourselves on and off the field and what we're supposed to do at practice and how we're supposed to work in the weight room. It's just a whole new mindset. I think it's really going to translate."

Hunter Morris is considered one of the top baseball players in the SEC.

Last season Morris was one of the bright spots for an Auburn team that finished 28-28. Starting 54 games, the Huntsville native led the Tigers with a .351 batting average, was second with 11 home runs and 49 RBI, and third in runs scored with 42. That was enough to earn him SEC Freshman of the Year honors. Picked as a Preseason All-SEC selection in 2009, Morris says he's more relaxed going into his second year, but he's still anxious to get back on the field in game situations.

"Even this year I know I'm going to be out there in game one shaking and ready to go," Morris says. "Last year was more nerves. This year will be excitement. I'm a lot more comfortable going into it knowing that I made the transition fairly well from high school. Hopefully, I can carry that and keep going from here."

In addition to his duties at first base this season, Morris is also expected to see time on the mound for the Tigers along with fellow infielder Joseph Sanders. Looking for help in the bullpen, Pawlowski and his staff worked both as pitchers during the fall to see if they could help the team in 2009. Morris says for him it was a matter of giving everything he can to help the team succeed.

"It's always fun to get back on the mound and do that every once in a while," he says. "Every position player that has even pitched in his life always wants to get back out there and throw. I'm being blessed with the opportunity to do that again.

"I told the coaching staff back after I started throwing in the fall that if they really thought I could help then that's what I wanted to do. I want this team to win and if it requires me to pitch then that's what I want to do. My first focus is with my bat because I feel like I can contribute more offensively and in the field. If I can do my job on the mound then I think we'll be okay."

Facing a schedule that features preseason Top 10 teams Florida State, LSU, and Ole Miss as well as a host of NCAA Regional teams from last season out of the SEC, the Tigers have their work cut out for them if they hope to erase a five-year streak of not making it to Hoover for the SEC Tournament. Morris says while the ultimate goal is Omaha and the College World Series, this team is hoping to take it step by step in order to get the job done.

"Our first goal is absolutely to get to the SEC Tournament," he says. "Five years is just way too long, especially for a school like Auburn. This program is so prestigious there is no excuse for that happening with the talent we've got and the recruiting classes we've had the last three or four years.

"We've got a solid group of seniors leading us this year. We lacked a little leadership last year, but I think these guys that have returned as seniors are really doing a good job," Morris adds. "I think they'll take us all the way to the SEC Tournament and hopefully that pushes us into a regional, which is just a few games away from a Super Regional and that's a weekend series away from the show."

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