An old coach used to always hammer the five P's: Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Not just a fancy slogan that gets a high school football coach/driver's ed instructor through the day; it's also a good way to know what to expect from upcoming Auburn opponents. Here are your Five P's for Auburn's foes during the three-day Auburn Tournament:
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders: Located in Murfreesboro, Tenn., the Blue Raiders come from the Sun Belt and have been a staple of the league, winning 16 conference titles and have only had two head coaches in their history. The current skipper, Steve Peterson, has been there for 23 seasons. There isn't a huge MLB pedigree for the Blue Raiders, but three guys stand out: Bryce Brentz (one of the top OF prospects in the Red Sox organization), Dewon Brazalton and Brett Carroll, journeyman utility player currently with the Nationals. The best college baseball season for MTSU had to be 1982, when the Lightning Pegasi came one game short of the College World Series. However, the best overall season had to be 2009, when a Bryce Brentz lead team powered MTSU to a 44-18 record, won both the regular season and Sun Belt tournament titles and broke several school records. Alumni-wise, the Blue Raiders can lay claim to Amy Lee (lead singer of Evanescence) and artist Wayne White. Really, the only reason I mention Wayne White is because it gives me a reason to promote and plug the fantastic documentary, "Beauty is Embarrassing." Check it out when you have a chance.
College of Charleston: John Pawlowski's old club is no stranger to college baseball success. The 2004, '05, '07 SoCon champs, the 2006 season stands out as the best squad C of C has put together, advancing to the Super Regionals. The best MLB connection remains Yankee outfielder Brett Gardner, who really seems to be holding his own in the pinstripes. Notable former Cougars include: actor Matt Czuchry, NBA player Anthony Johnson and consummate "that guy" actor Erick Avari.
Indiana State: Best known as the home to "The Hick from French Lick", the Sycamores have a pretty nice college baseball pedigree, as well. ISU made the NCAA Tournament last year, as well as 1979, '83, '84, '87, '89 and '95, and the Sycamores made the CWS in 1986. One of Indiana State's former coaches was the late John Wooden. Yes, that's the same John Wooden you are thinking of. Notable MLB alumni who wore the Sycamore Blue and White include Clint Barmes and Atlanta Braves fan favorite Zane Smith. Notable alumni from Terre Haute include Bubba the Love Sponge, Burl Ives and Auburn Network's own Andy Burcham.
Auburn has faced each of these teams before. Indiana State is 0-3 vs the Tigers, with the last meeting coming in 1969. Middle Tennessee is 3-15 vs the Orange and Blue (last meeting in 1999). College of Charleston has the shortest history against Auburn, as the two teams have only met one time: 2011, in the College of Charleston Tournament, when Auburn won 7-4. Indiana State and College of Charleston made the NCAA Tournament last year. The Sycamores went 0-2 (losing to Cal State Fullerton and Austin Peay) in the Eugene Regional, and the Cougars went 1-2 in the Gainesville Regional, with the lone win coming against Bethune-Cookman.
This year, Indiana State is 2-2 and spent last weekend in Huntsville at the Alabama A&M Tournament. Losing 2-0 to IPFW and 6-5 to Morehead, while winning 12-5 against the host Bulldogs and getting revenge on Morehead in the final game, 7-5.
Middle Tennessee is also 2-2. The Raiders took a series from Ball State last weekend (W 1-0, W 11-6, L 5-1) and dropped a midweek contest to Austin Peay, 5-2. They will be playing their first road game of the season this Friday against Auburn.
College of Charleston has been getting some nice preseason love, and the Cougars haven't disappointed. They look a series from Xavier (W 6-3, L 6-5, W 4-1) and blasted intra-city rival Charleston Southern, 13-5, in the midweek.
For Indiana State, the Tigers will catch a bit of break by missing stud pitcher Sam Manaea, a three-time preseason All-American, All-OVC and Gold Glove finalist. Offensively, the Sycamores will be led by Robby Ort, a senior and preseason All-OVC selection. Last year, he hit .291 with 54 RBIs and 20 doubles. He's a solid run producer, and his six runs tie him for the team lead. Auburn will see junior LHP Jeff Degano, who is 0-0 with a 3.60 ERA this year. The Canadian went five innings, allowing six hits, two runs and two strikeouts against Morehead.
Middle Tennessee will present the toughest pitching matchup for Auburn. The Blue Raiders will trot out stud RHP Hunter Adkins. Adkins won Pitcher of the Week honors for his domination of Ball State. He pitched eight innings, allowing four hits, striking out seven and only allowing the Cardinals a .160 batting average. Last year, Adkins posted a 5-6 record and 5.76 ERA through 76 2/3 innings and chalked up 59 strikeouts.
College of Charleston will be the best overall team that Auburn will face this weekend. Probable starter against Auburn Jake Zokan went 4 1/3 innings in his season debut, allowing seven hits, two earned runs, but the crafty lefty still notched eight Ks. The Cougars are strikeout-heavy staff and already have 41 total Ks and a 2.25 ERA as a staff. Offensively, C of C is paced by Gunnar Heidt, who has .400 average with two doubles, two triples, one home run and five RBIs -- quite a breakout from last year, when he amassed a .243 average and only two dingers.
This tournament will present a unique challenge for Auburn: three different teams, three different mentalities. C of C will be the standout club, and I'm sure Pawlowski will want to best his old squad. While ISU and MTSU haven't been that great offensively so far, the Blue Raiders could easily shut down Auburn if Adkins is at the top of his game. Auburn will be battling the weather all weekend, and I could make a joke and say that rain will be the biggest opponent.
This weekend should be a time and opportunity for Auburn to get into a Regional mindset early. I think the best thing for the Tigers to do is to take each opponent seriously and start to finalize the batting order and rotation.
Friday's game will be a pitcher's duel. Auburn's ace (Daniel Koger) will go against MTSU's ace in a matchup that could rival many SEC Friday nights. Auburn will need to get to Adkins early, string hits together and really work on moving runners without at-bats by using steals and forcing errors.
I'm really interested to see how Michael O'Neal does on Saturday. C of C can make contact and O'Neal can give up hits against Maine. Auburn will need to avoid a big inning and keep the game close in order to win. Offensively, the Tigers will need to be patient. C of C can rack up a ton of Ks if Auburn is anxious and pressing too much.
Sunday and Indiana State could be big because it could mean good vibes or a sour taste from the weekend. ISU isn't a slouch, and this is a Regional team that will push Auburn if the Tigers don't push back. The biggest storyline on Sunday will be who gets the starting nod. Dillon Ortman, Chase Williamson, Trey Cochran-Gill Rocky McCord are all battling for that coveted third rotation slot. Pawlowski could even pull a big wild-card and let Trey Wingenter see his first action. We should at least know by next Wednesday who Auburn will set up for the upcoming SEC slate.
The game I most want to see is that Saturday matchup against C of C. The Cougars are strong, and if Auburn can hold their own and steal a big win, then it should boost confidence and really send a message around the league that Auburn is for real and ready to compete.
Finally, I really want to see if Auburn's bullpen can hold. Last weekend was a phenomenal start. This weekend, if the starters don't go full frames, then the bullpen will once again be called upon to pick up the slack. I'm sure they can hold, but I'd rather see them work with holding a lead instead of holding serve while the offense clicks.
It's hard to tell with three completely different opponents, but I think for Auburn, anything less than a 2-1 finish to the weekend will be disappointing.