Butch Thompson came to Auburn with one main goal: to build a program that became a mainstay in the NCAA Tournament.
In year two of the Thompson era, Auburn is back in the NCAA Tournament.
Auburn (35-24) was announced as the No. 3 seed in the Tallahassee Regional, and will play No. 2 seed UCF (40-20) Friday at 11 a.m. No. 1 seed Florida State (39-20) and No. 4 seed Tennessee Tech (40-19) will play at 5 p.m. Friday.
“From my 15 years in the Southeastern Conference, I believe this is one of the toughest fields to make that I can remember,” Thompson said. “There’s no doubt that making this field is special, knowing since August 16th how hard our guys have worked and prepared all season, just like every other ball club. They get an opportunity to go end their season on a baseball field instead of a meeting room.”
It is Auburn’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2015 and 20th overall in program history.
Out of the Tigers’ 20 postseason appearances, this will be the ninth time they have traveled to Tallahassee. Since 1999 when the NCAA went from a six-team to a four-team regional format, Auburn has been selected to five out-of-town regionals. Tallahassee has been the destination four times.
“This program has been to Tallahassee a few times before, several times. This will be a new experience for me as a head coach,” Thompson said.” I’ve been there as an assistant in a regional, and they do a great job. Florida State knows how to hold a regional, how to take care of people and respect fan bases that come in there. This will be a great opportunity for us this week.”
Auburn’s previous NCAA Tournament appearance also came in Tallahassee. Auburn finished the regional 1-2 with a victory over Mercer and two losses to College of Charleston.
The winner of the Tallahassee Regional will play the winner of the Lubbock Regional which features Texas Tech (43-15), Delaware (34-21), Sam Houston State (40-20) and Arizona (37-19).
Auburn, which was ranked as high as No. 4 in the regular season, won seven of 10 SEC series, which gave the Tigers its first winning conference record since 2010. A late-season seven-game losing streak left the Tigers in jeopardy of missing the NCAA Tournament, but the Tigers were selected as one of the last four at-large teams.
“This is a game of inches, and it always comes down to one or two games in the Southeastern Conference,” Thompson said. “That’s why it’s the toughest conference in America. That’s why this caliber of tournament creates (situations) where you have to battle through adversity. We’ve definitely had our share, which, in a positive connotation, I think makes us more prepared and ready to go.”
The SEC earned eight NCAA tournament bids, the most of any conference in the country. The ACC had seven teams make the field of 64.
Auburn finished 1-2 in the SEC Tournament in Hoover last week. The Tigers defeated Ole Miss 5-4 in the opening round before falling to Florida 5-4 and being run-ruled and no-hit 12-0 by Arkansas. The Tigers, however, are not ready for this season to end.
“Any time I can keep wearing Auburn on my jersey, I’m going to try to take full advantage of it,” senior right fielder Daniel Robert said. “I don’t want this to be the end yet, so this is a big step for us today. We’re going to go down there and get the job done.”