Auburn, Ala.--On Sunday the 14th-ranked Auburn Tigers (40-19) got the word that their home, Plainsman Park, would be the site of regional in the NCAA Baseball Tournament. On Monday the Tigers found out who the competition will be.
The Tigers will face fourth-seed Jacksonville State (32-24) in the first round at 6 p.m. CDT on Friday while the 2-3 game matches Clemson (38-21) against Southern Miss (35-22) at 2 p.m. to open things on Friday. It would be hard to imagine a much tougher regional in the tournament this year based on the finishes each of the teams had this season.
"Obviously it is an exciting day for Auburn Tiger baseball," Auburn coach John Pawlowski said. "It was
great to see our name come up on the board. If you look at the teams
across the country, and certainly in our Regional, it is going to be
tough. That's what this time of year is about. You look at the three
teams in our Regional and we have a great challenge in front of us."
Auburn's finish is well documented as the Tigers won 12 of 15 games in the second half of the SEC schedule to win the Western Division with a 20-10 league mark. One of the Tigers' last regular season wins was against the same Jacksonville State team, by a 9-7 score at Plainsman Park. That is the only loss in the final nine games for the Gamecocks, who won the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament to earn an automatic bid into the tournament.
Auburn players wait for the regional announcement at a local restaurant.
On the other side Clemson is red hot as the Tigers have won 13 of their last 17 games overall, including a three-game sweep of Florida State just two weekends ago to push them to 18-12 in the ACC. They'll need to stay hot as Southern Miss is a stellar 17-5 the last four weeks, including a run to the championship in Conference USA. The Golden Eagles are making their eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament after advancing to the College World Series last season.
Tough competition is something you expect when a team plays host to a regional, but it's a new experience for this Auburn team as no player has even played in the NCAA Tournament. Veteran first baseman Hunter Morris says right now the Tigers are just focused on Jacksonville State and glad to be staying at home.
"I'm excited," Morris says. "There is absolutely no disadvantage to being here at home playing in Auburn in front of your own fans on your own field sleeping in your own bed. No matter who the other three teams were we were going to go about our business the same way and come out ready to win this weekend."
Hunter Morris is the SEC Player of the Year for 2010.
While much of the talk this week will likely center around Auburn Coach John Pawlowski and his ties to Clemson after both playing and coaching there, Morris says first things first and that is the Jacksonville State Gamecocks.
"Jacksonville State is a good team," Morris says. "They gave us a heck of a ball game there at the end of the season. They've got some very good players on that team. We expect nothing different this weekend. It's really important that we come out ready to play. It doesn't matter who you play from here on out, it's going to be a tough ball game."
The Auburn Regional At A Glance:
Jacksonville State (32-24, 15-8 OVC)
Players To Watch
On the mound it will likely be Austin Lucas the Tigers see on Friday night. The winning pitcher in the Gamecocks' opening round OVC Tournament game, Lucas is a perfect 6-0 this season with a 4.97 ERA in 13 starts.
At the plate the Gamecocks have five players with double-figures home runs led by Sam Eberle's 16 to go along with 60 RBI. Bert Smith leads the team in hitting with a .371 average while Andrew Edge may be the most dangerous of the Gamecocks with 11 home runs, 17 doubles and a .330 average.
Clemson (38-21, 18-12 ACC)
Players To Watch
On the mound the Tigers feature a pair of solid starters in Casey Harman and Scott Weisman. Both 6-2 on the season in 15 starts, Harman has an ERA of 4.14 while Weisman's is 5.47. As a team Clemson's ERA is 4.81 and they have allowed just 57 home runs this season.
Kyle Parker is a dangerous hitter and one of the top prospects in college baseball.
At the plate veteran Brad Miller leads Clemson with a .373 average to go along with seven home runs, 17 doubles, and 37 RBI. Right fielder/quarterback Kyle Parker is the big bat for the Tigers with a .364 average, 19 home runs, and 57 RBI. The top run producer for Clemson is Jeff Schaus with 15 home runs and 75 RBI.
Southern Miss (35-22, 14-10 CUSA)
Players To Watch
Much like Clemson, Southern Miss is carried by a pair of outstanding starting pitchers, but also have a dominating closer to throw into the mix. Scott Copeland (11-0, 3.38 ERA) and Todd McInnis (6-5, 3.15) are expected to carry the load after both earned All-CUSA honors this season and then turn things over to Collin Carquill. In 26 appearances Carquill is 3-2 with nine saves and a 1.86 ERA.
Hitting .323 as a team, Southern Miss is led by B.A. Vollmuth. The all-conference selection his .378 this season with 18 home runs and 68 RBI. Seven different players had at least six home runs this season for Southern Miss with a total of 71 for the team.
The game times are 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. on Friday with the losers playing again at 2 p.m. on Saturday with the winner's bracket game to follow at 6. On Sunday another loser's bracket game will take place at 1 p.m. with the championship game at 5. If another game is necessary it will be played Monday at 6 p.m.
Auburn junior first baseman Hunter Morris talks about the upcoming regional at Plainsman Park and we take a look at the three teams coming in.