Auburn baseball has been selected to host an NCAA Regional for the first time since 2010, earning a No. 14 national seed. Coming to Plainsman Park on June 3 will be Southeast Louisiana, UCLA and Florida State.
With games beginning Friday, No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 Florida State will face off at 11 a.m. on the one side of the bracket, with Auburn and No. 4 Southeast Louisiana on the other side, set to play at 6 p.m. that night.
“Everybody in the field of 64 is going to be a tough opponent but if we come out and do our thing, I think we’re setting ourselves up for success,” said senior Carson Skipper. “Very important opportunity for us to go out there and make the most of it.”
Auburn enters the regional with a 37-19 record after a one-and-done trip to the SEC Tournament where it fell 3-1 to Kentucky. The Tigers are on a two-game losing skid after dropping their season closer against the Wildcats, before the rematch in Hoover.
“This past week, since we got back from the SEC Tournament has been a grind. Harder than we have all year. In our series and four games against Kentucky, we kind of slacked a little bit,” Skipper said. “Our offense wasn’t really hitting. We weren’t making pitches when we needed to, which was allowing them to get those runs.”
Auburn’s regular season was a stretch where it was not swept in a series and did not lose more than two consecutive games. That last fact is at risk this weekend, with the team’s biggest struggle being the offense’s lack of consecutive hits in recent games.
“I think we need to show up and we need to hit the ball,” said senior Brody Moore. “I think we need to stick to the same approach the whole at-bat, no matter who we’re playing, and get something on the pitcher then go to work on him.”
Regional hosts were announced Sunday night after the conclusion of conference tournaments, so Auburn knew it would host the night before the field of 64 was announced. The team did not formally meet for regionals until Monday, so players were in the same situation as fans when the announcement came.
“Josh [Hall] had a little screen-mirroring thing and he was waiting for the time and it came up on our TV. It popped up ‘Auburn’ and we were just screaming,” Moore said. “Trace [Bright] didn’t even know it was happening. He was upstairs and came downstairs wondering what was going on. It was fun.”
Auburn has not won a home regional since 1999, when the Tigers hit a walk-off home run to advance to the Tallahassee Super Regional. This will be Auburn’s 23rd all-time appearance, with four of those coming under current head coach Butch Thompson.
“We’ve been fighting to host here since 2018, when I thought we should have,” Thompson said. “I really felt like we have a really solid resume, so I did think we’d get in. I was just really frustrated by not being able to win the ball game [in Hoover].”
Unlike the conference tournament, regional play is entirely double elimination, so teams are guaranteed a pair of games before they are out. Auburn’s first opponent, the Lions, finished 30-29 on the season and 14-10 in their Southland Conference games.
Auburn used Skipper, Bright, Carson Swilling, Blake Burkhalter and Chase Allsup against Kentucky in the tournament. Starters like Mason Barnett and Joseph Gonzalez were kept in reserve for theoretical later games, but regional play will come nine days after the Tigers were eliminated.
With that gap in games, Auburn anticipates that rested Bright and Gonzalez to start in its first pair of games. More detailed pitching plans will be developed as the staff scouts their opponents.
“It’s a maneuver and each team’s got to size up what they’re going to do in game one and game two. From my experience, being around this so long, I think you do one and two and then you wait,” Thompson said. “Joseph Gonzalez will get one of those two and Trace Bright will probably get one of those two. That would be my guess.”
With some additional rest from early tournament elimination, Auburn has already spent some practice time back at their home park. The Tigers went heavy in practice Monday, then plan to hit the weight room Tuesday before a night practice Wednesday to simulate game conditions.
This schedule exists to fit everything in for Auburn before the other teams arrive on Thursday, where each of the four will have a designated window to practice in the facility.
Auburn and Southeast Louisiana’s matchup on Friday will stream on ESPN+. The winner of their game will advance to play the winner of game one, either UCLA or Florida State. Regional play will conclude on Sunday and the winner in Auburn will advance to play the winner of the Corvallis Regional, hosted by No. 3 Oregon State.
“It’s something that you dream of, when you’re a little kid, playing college baseball and going to play in Omaha,” Moore said. “This year, to have it start right here in Auburn is something special.”
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Callie Stanford, junior in communications, is the sports editor at the Auburn Plainsman. Currently a junior, she has been with The Plainsman since January 2021.