BY NOAH GRIFFITH
FOR THE OBSERVER
In April, Auburn University baseball was sitting at 20-15-1 after a series loss at the hands of the Crimson Tide, and it was
looking like a rebuilding year after last year’s College World Series run.
Down 7-0 in the third inning in the rubber match after splitting the first two games with Mississippi State the next weekend, it
looked like the season was going downhill at a sprint. But Auburn rallied back to win, 12-11, fueling the fire for five straight
series wins to end the season and revive its playoff hopes.
Auburn ended the season at 34-21-1, and as a No. 13 national seed, it is now set to host its second consecutive NCAA
Tournament Regional for the first time in program history. The Tigers have hosted five regionals all-time in 1978, 1999, 2003,
2010 and 2022.
After winning last season’s Auburn Regional in front of a record-breaking crowd at Plainsman Park, head coach Butch
Thompson is leading his club into his fifth regional bid in eight seasons as a head coach at Auburn, etching him at second all-
time program-wide in that category.
“Auburn baseball to host back-to-back regionals at Plainsman Park is a big, big deal,” Thompson said. “A credit to our
assistant coaches, all of our staff and these amazing players of breeding some consistency in the program. Last year was pretty
special here. To be able to do it again, I’m looking forward to it.”
Opening the regional as the top seed, Auburn will begin play on Friday, June 2, with No. 4-seed Penn (32-14). Also in the
field, No. 2 Samford (36-24) will take on No. 3 Southern Miss (41-17). The Bulldogs and Golden Eagles will kick off the action
at 1 p.m. CST on Friday, and Auburn will go to battle with Penn at 6 p.m.
The conference is setting the standard with eight NCAA Tournament hosts, doubling the number of teams from any other
conference (ACC- 4), and Auburn went 17-13 in conference play and finished by taking series over Mississippi State, then-No.
2 South Carolina and then-No. 1 LSU; then it swept reigning national champion Ole Miss and Missouri.
However, the other three teams in the field are a combined 0-13 against SEC competition.
Scouting the field:
Auburn’s first opponent, the Penn Quakers, got swept in an early-season series with South Carolina, but it made the
Gamecocks fight for a season-opening sweep, losing by one in the final two games. It won the Ivy League Championship and
dominated league play in the regular season, going 16-5. Penn ended the season on an eight-game winning streak, led by five
hitters batting over .300 and Wyatt Henseler with 17 homers.
The only team in the field Auburn has seen this season is Samford, who Auburn took down 13-3 in eight innings back in
April. Samford won the SoCon Tournament, winning three games in one day to notch an automatic tournament bid, but it went
0-7 against SEC opponents in 2023.
The Bulldogs won their final nine games and are led by Jayden Davis, who is leading the team with a .363 average, 78 hits
and 47 runs and senior pitcher Jacob Cravey, who is fourth in the NCAA with 121 Ks in 98.2 IP.
Perhaps a dangerous team, Southern Miss, also won its conference championship in the Sun Belt. With a 22-8 conference
record, the Golden Eagles went 0-3 against SEC opponents, but beat some high-level competition. They took 3-of-4 from
regional-bound Troy, stole a game from No. 7 Coastal Carolina and swept a talented No. 17 Dallas Baptist team. They are led
by ace Tanner Hall, who owns a 2.23 ERA with 109 strikeouts and 30 walks in 97 IP.
The Home Team:
Winning its final eight regular-season games while shutting down top-notch competition, Auburn is as hot as any team in the
nation. Auburn has been able to solidify its pitching rotation that was a struggle early in the season.
In the absence of its only returning starter from 2022, Joseph Gonzalez, graduate lefty Tommy Vail has stepped up and led the
rotation with 13 starts and a 3.46 ERA, while sophomore Will Cannon, sophomore John Armstrong, junior Tanner Bauman and
senior Chase Isbell have each thrown 20+ innings out of the bullpen.
Meanwhile, senior third baseman Bryson Ware is putting the nation on notice, breaking the program record for home runs
with 24, which also ranks eighth in the NCAA this season. Junior shortstop Cole Foster, who had three homers and 12 RBI with
six hits in last year’s regional, accompanied Ware on the SEC All-Tournament team, and the duo tallied averages of .356 and
.336, respectively, with both recording OPS over 1.0 this season.
Led by freshman Ike Irish at .364, the Tigers posted a team average of .291, good for fifth in the SEC. The Tigers are one of
the most dangerous teams offensively, and they’ll have the luxury of starting a guy in center field who’s already been to two
regionals and won them both: Kason Howell.
Losing eight players to the MLB Draft after last season, Auburn has been left filling in the gaps this season, but the Tigers
feel comfortable in the position they are in.
“It’s a big step for this program,” Howell said. “It’s a milestone that this program has reached, and we couldn’t be more
excited. This is the goal, to host regionals and for the road to Omaha to go through Auburn, Alabama, as many years as it can.”