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The Road to Omaha Goes Through Auburn

In case you haven’t heard, Auburn was selected as one of the 16 host sites for the NCAA Regionals that start up on Friday. Once Monday’s selection show got started, it was revealed that Auburn pulled in the #14 Overall Seed, just behind the Florida Gators who had a fantastic run to the SEC Tournament Championship game and the #15 seed Maryland Terrapins who won the Big Ten regular season. Having a lower National Seed normally means that your road is a bit tougher than the seeds above you and that is definitely the case for the 13-16 seeds. We will concentrate on the Auburn Regional though for our purposes however.

The schedule has also been released for Friday as well:

  • Game 1: #3 FSU vs #2 UCLA – 11 AM – ESPN2
  • Game 2: #4 SE Louisiana vs #1 Auburn – 6 PM – ESPN+

Notice that ESPN2 game, that means Auburn is a feature regional in the Motherships eyes, also obvious by this tweet.

So that is a big deal.

So, what about the teams that are coming to Auburn. Let’s take a little deeper look at all 3 teams.

#2 UCLA Bruins

  • 38-22 (19-11 PAC12)

The Bruins had a solid season, much like Auburn’s in that they were in the thick of the conference race for most of the season (if you don’t have a team named Tennessee in that conference). The Bruins finished 3rd in the Pac12 and even made it to the conference semifinals where they forced the extra game against Oregon State Saturday night in the most insane game ever.

Just so everyone understands, it was 21-12 IN THE BOTTOM OF THE 9th! So, ok, it was then 21-13, let’s Fast Forward a bit.

YEAH….THE TIED THE THING UP.

So they go to the 10th and…

I mean that’s just movie script worthy. So who are these guys. Mainly they do their thing with pitching but, given the opportunity, they can hit a little bit. Michael Curialle and Cody Schrier are those guys for the Bruins. Curialle leads the team in BA with a .326 while Schrier has a .293 but leads the team in bombs and in Total Bases. Other guys to keep an eye on at the dish are Jake Palmer (.314), Kyle Karros (.310) and Ethan Gourson (42 RBIs, leads team). On the mound, Max Rajcic is the Friday Night guy. He carries a 3.08 ERA and an 8-4 record into the regional on 14 starts and 79 innings thrown on the year. Rajcic was the Bruins closer last year but began to transition to the starting rotation for this season with a ton of success. He is a classic 3 pitch guy with a fastball in the mid 90s, a solid change that gets down to the low 80s and a 12-6 curve that he has been working on since last spring. I personally think that UCLA will throw him against FSU to lock down game 1 and then go with either Kelly Austin or Ethan Flanagan on Saturday. Kelly is the team leader in starts this year with 15 and has a 4.33 ERA in 23 appearances throwing 70.2 innings. Kelly is a strike out pitcher and really works to get the swing and miss when he’s on the bump. Flanagan is a tall lefty that goes low 90s on his fastball but has shown a lot of promise. I would expect UCLA to go with Kelly Saturday and then Flanagan for a quick Sunday in their best case scenario. In the field, UCLA boasts the 55th best in the country with a .974 Fielding Percentage.

#3 Florida State Seminoles

  • 33-23 (15-15 ACC)

Ah…hello old friend.

FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER! After 30+ years of having June plans in Tallahassee, the Noles finally make the trek up 431 to Auburn for a Regional. Auburn and FSU’s baseball history is well documented but anytime they get together, it’s a nail biter to say the least. This season, Junior’s squad has battled to a .500 conference record in a very very tough ACC and earned a 9 seed at the tournament this year. If you believe the Tournament committee, FSU was one of the last 4 teams in the field, but do not be fooled, this FSU team is as talented as they have ever been and is going to cause headaches if you don’t watch out. I actually feel horrible for whoever has to play in Game 3, regardless of who wins Game 1, because either SE Louisiana or Auburn are staring at 2 and Q if you don’t take care of business early. At the dish, Jamie Ferrer paces the Noles with a .319 average and also leads the team in Total bases. Another guy to watch for is Alex Toral who gets the Mark Reynolds Award leading the team in Home Runs (14) and in Strikeouts (76) but is definitely one to keep an eye on in a big situation.

On the mound, the Noles have 2 Aces. Parker Messick is the normal Friday night guy. Messick holds a 3.36 ERA with a 6-5 record in 15 starts, throwing a mind blowing 93.2 innings. He was the 2021 ACC Pitcher of the year but slowed down a little bit in record but that’s the only knock really. Messick is a 4 pitch guy who won’t over power you with his fastball (high 80s, low 90s) and a slider to match. The change gets down to the low 80s but his dagger is a roundhouse curve that he hums in around 75-78. I believe he will go first for the Noles against UCLA to try and get FSU to the winners bracket game on Saturday night. Either way, on Saturday Bryce Hubbart will take the ball. With a 3.18 ERA in and an 8-2 record in 14 games (73.2 innings) it could be said that Hubbart is using the advantage of starting against an opposition #2 to his full advantage. Hubbart is another classic swing and miss guy who generates a lot of RPMs on his Fastball, Curve and Slider to get that movement on the ball. He normally sits about where Messick sits in terms of speed but you can’t hit it if the ball isn’t there. Sunday for the Noles would be interesting as they normally go Bullpen on those days but Carson Montgomery (5.00 ERA) has normally been the starter lately for FSU. Ross Dunn (4.31) would also be an option along with Wyatt Crowell (2.27 ERA). If there has been a squeaky wheel for the Noles, its in the field. FSU hold a .968 Fielding Percentage, good enough for 160th in the nation.

#4 SE Louisiana Lions

  • 30-29 (14-10 Southland)
  • Southland Conference Tournament Champions

SE Louisiana might not jump off the page at you when you first look, but this is a dangerous 4 seed. They finished a game behind McNeese, who many thought would run away with this league and tournament. The Lions didn’t do that and held strong after dropping the first game of their championship series 6-5 last Thursday and reeled off 2 wins, 3-2 and 11-7 to clinch the bid and head to Auburn.

For the Lions, Preston Faulkner is the guy. He paces Southeast at a .343 BA, 1.148 OPS, leads the team in doubles, RBIs, Home Runs and Total bases. Oh and he has not been caught, stealing 13 bases. So yeah, watch for 22. Shea Thomas and Evan Keller would also have my eye Friday night. On the mound for the Lions. Adam Guth has been the normal Friday night guy for the Lions. Guth has a 5.13 ERA and a 4-1 record in his 14 appearances (59.2 innings). However, I would expect either Guth or Will Kinzeler go to start for the Lions. Kinzeler leads the team in starts (14) and Innings pitched (80). Kinzeler will also bring in a team leading 3.6 ERA with his 3 pitch mix of Fastball (low 90s) change and slider. Hunter O’Toole is also a name to watch in that Saturday game for the Lions along with Hayden Robb. In the field, the Lions are excellent with a .978 Fielding Percentage, good enough for 22 in the nation.

Overall this is a very tough regional. Whoever makes it out will have earned it to be sure and it really could be anyone. Each team has its shining spots and a weakness, the question will be, who can protect their weakness while exploiting others.

Weather does not look to be a factor this weekend (THANK GOD) as there is just a 30% chance of rain Friday and temperatures in the high 80s and sunshine for the rest of the weekend.

If you were lucky enough (like myself) to snag a ticket, I will see you there. If you have a chance to get a ticket, do it. NCAA Regionals are so much fun and this won’t be any different. Settle in and enough one of the best weekend of the college calendar, its Regional Weekend!