Confident resume is good enough to host NCAA Regional, Auburn eyes SEC Tournament run

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Confident resume is good enough to host NCAA Regional, Auburn eyes SEC Tournament run

To Butch Thompson, Auburn has already done enough throughout the season to warrant a postseason reward.

In the mind of Thompson, the Tigers' third-year coach, Auburn's resume is good enough and he believes his team is one of the 16 best in the nation. That, of course, means Auburn would host an NCAA Regional next week. Yet Thompson wants more.

He wants his team to make a run at the SEC Tournament title.

"First, it's an exciting time," Thompson said. "Second, you know, why can't I play committee member today? As I look at it, I'm not so sure our body of work -- I know they'll set it up, do what's best for college baseball -- I'm not so sure we're not a host right now if I look at it and I start counting off 16 teams to host.... The next thing I think about is we have zero--absolutely zero control over it."

Auburn finished the regular season 37-19 overall and 15-15 in the SEC, earning the seventh seed in this week's SEC Tournament in Hoover. The Tigers, who will play 10th-seeded Kentucky today at 1 p.m., also tout an RPI of 12 and won 11 of their final 18 SEC games after a 4-8 start to conference play.

Thompson knows his club has experienced the highs and lows this season, and he believes that has been a benefit to the team, which has played the ninth-toughest schedule in the nation.

"I think our focus is to try to play our best baseball," Thompson said. "We're playing a great Kentucky team. We've got these 10 weeks of SEC play. We're still trying to sharpen our axe to make every play count this time of year.... This week sets up like a regional; you have to earn your way in by winning your first game. We'll approach it that way."

Auburn will turn to freshman left-hander Jack Owen (2-2, 6.19 ERA) in its first-round matchup against Kentucky, a team that took two of three from the Tigers early in the SEC schedule back in March. Owen is 1-0 with a 3.07 ERA in his last four outings, which includes three midweek starts spanning 13 2/3 innings.

He has not pitched since last Tuesday against Troy, when he allowed one run on five hits and tied a career high with six strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings.

"I think it's our best option tomorrow from who's fatigued, who's ready and where to go," Thompson said. "I think he's our best chance to go out and get out to a good start and win the ballgame tomorrow."

From there, how Thompson handles Auburn's pitching staff against Kentucky and the rest of the week, should the Tigers win and advance to Wednesday and beyond, is still up in the air. The most likely scenario will include sophomore righty Davis Daniel making a bullpen appearance against Kentucky.

If Daniel doesn't pitch Tuesday, he will likely be the Wednesday starter if Auburn wins. If he is used out of the bullpen, however, Thompson thinks he will move up his usual weekend starters a day, meaning freshman Tanner Burns could pitch Wednesday while ace Casey Mize could move up to a Thursday start.

It's a decision Thompson said he "would love to have to make" on Wednesday, because it would mean Auburn dispatched Kentucky and advanced to the double-elimination portion of the tournament -- and improved its chances of hosting a regional for the first time since 2010.

As of Monday, the Tigers were projected as a No. 2 seed in the Clemson Regional by While Thompson feels his team has earned the right to host a regional, that's a discussion that will have to wait until after the SEC Tournament.

"The only championship to win this week," Thompson said, "is this one."

Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.

from Auburn Sports Impact

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