It’s the top of the ninth inning. Auburn trails Clemson 9-8, facing elimination from the NCAA Regional Baseball Tournament. Outfielder Creed Simpson is at the plate …. With two strikes and two outs he hammers the next pitch over the “green monster” in left center, for a three run homer. Pandemonium breaks loose in Plainsman Park and Auburn veteran radio announcer Rod Bramblett goes absolutely crazy calling the play.
It was that moment more than any other that defined Auburn’s exciting 2010 championship season. Some felt it was the most dramatic moment ever in the history of Auburn Baseball. It certainly had to be the loudest moment at Plainsmen Park. (The video of the event is worth watching over and over.)
Simpson’s blast was just one of many magical moments from a season filled with the best baseball played on the Plains in 15 years. The question for this season though, is can Auburn repeat as Champs of the West?
Auburn finished up last year with a 43-21 record including 20 league wins – the best in Auburn history; and was at the top of the SEC in almost every offensive category, with a team batting average of .348, a slugging percentage of .591, extra base hits of 293, and led the nation with 131 homeruns.
But success does not come without a cost. After the season Auburn also led the nation (along with UCLA) for the most players drafted from one program in the Major League Baseball Draft. A total of 11 Tigers were taken in the draft, including two All Americans, six All-SEC players and the SEC Player of the Year, Hunter Morris.
However,the cupboard is far from empty. As Jay Coulter pointed out on Monday, “Nineteen lettermen are returning including six starters in the field and nine pitchers.” It was especially good news for Tiger fans when OF Justin Fradejas and Team Captain/ All SEC DH -Kevin Patterson decided to forgo the draft to return for another year.
An offensive player to watch this year will be Senior Tony Calweld who started last season on the Johnny Bench Award Watch List (which honors the top collegiate catcher) before injuries forced him into platooning in right field. Despite injuries Tony had a .349 average, with 10 homers, eight doubles, and 41 RBI’s.
Even with the holes left in the line up by Trent Mummey, and All Americans Hunter Morris and Brian Fletcher; Auburn will have strong hitting. But for Auburn to repeat as SEC West Champs, the pitching will have to improve.
Last season Tiger pitching bested their opponents ERA .500 to .834. If they can lower that ERA, the Tigers may have an even better season in 2011; if not then a trip to the SEC Tournament may be the best we can hope for.
Bradley Hendrix who had the third most starts in 2010 will be back after turning down a draft pick from the Cincinnati Reds. The pitcher to watch though in 2011 (with a 92 MPH fast ball) will be Andrew Morris a junior college transfer from Gulf Coast CC. He was the 2010 Florida JUCO Pitcher of the Year and a 2009 and 2010 JUCO All-American.
The Tigers are ranked number 23 by ESPN, NCBWA, and Rivals.com. The coaches pollreleased this week has Auburn picked to finish third in the West behind LSU and Arkansas. However, in the Rivals.com 2011 SEC Preview the Tigers were picked to repeat as the Southeastern Conference’s Western Division Champion.
Rivals college baseball writer Kendall Rogers has also picked Auburn as one of the SEC’s”five safe bets” for playing in the postseason, along with Florida, LSU, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt.
Tiger fans can help the baseball team get off to a good start in 2011 by being ‘All In’ at this weekends opening tournament. The first pitch will be at 6 pm CST Friday at Plainsman Park.
I’ll buy the peanuts and cracker jacks. You get the cokes.
See ya there.