BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The Samford baseball team’s Road to Omaha starts in a familiar ballpark.
When the 36-23 Bulldogs heard their name called Monday during the 2023 NCAA Baseball Tournament selection show, they found out they were going to make the in-state trip to Auburn’s Plainsman Park. As the No. 3 seed, Samford will face second-seeded Southern Miss on Friday at 1 p.m. to commence the Auburn Regional.
After learning about where the Bulldogs were headed, Samford head coach Tony David said you like to go to new places when you reach the postseason. Yet, he mentioned the positives of competing at a facility the Bulldogs visited in April. He said Plainsman Park reminds the program of Fluor Field in Greenville, South Carolina, which was where the 2023 Southern Conference Tournament was held.
“The park I think really caters to what we do,” David said. “So, it’s exciting for our fans and our alumni to be able to be there and to be able to travel there easily. That’s what will be exciting. I think we’ll have a really good group that’s down there.”
A historic day led Samford to the NCAA Tournament. After winning its first game of the conference tournament, Samford fell to Wofford in the semifinals Friday. With inclement weather forecasted for Sunday, the conference decided to move up the championship game by a day.
Therefore, the Bulldogs would have to pull off the almost unthinkable of sweeping a “triple-header” if they wanted an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
First, they needed to stave off North Carolina-Greensboro in an elimination contest Saturday morning before turning around in less than an hour to face Wofford. If they downed Wofford once, then they would have to beat the Terriers again to claim the conference tournament championship.
Samford beat UNCG, 9-5, Saturday morning. Less than an hour later, the Bulldogs were on the field against the Terriers and fought their way to a 7-2 victory. Then, against tremendous odds, Samford completed the single day three-game sweep in less than 10 hours with a 5-2 win over Wofford.
“We’re just gritty,” Samford pitcher Jacob Cravey said, who is a starter but earned the save in the Bulldogs’ last contest. “We’ll grind stuff out. We’ll find a way to win. I really appreciate this team and everything we do. I think we’re great guys, and we get the job done.”
A Bulldog who pushed through Saturday was catcher Kaden Dreier. The senior from Brentwood, Tennessee, caught all 27 innings behind the plate despite saying he thought the night before that it was impossible that three games could be scheduled in one day.
“We just kept winning, and the innings just kept coming,” Dreier said. “I didn’t really notice it until, I think, it was probably the next morning. I hopped on the bus right back home and I was like a little sore but feel good now.”
The Auburn Regional is stacked with talented programs. Auburn is the tournament’s No. 13 overall seed. The Tigers went 34-21-1 through the SEC Tournament, with half of those victories coming via SEC regular-season competition.
Senior infielder/outfielder Bryson Ware and freshman catcher Ike Irish helped propel the Auburn offense. Ware recorded 24 home runs — an Auburn record — and 64 RBI. Irish leads the program with a .364 batting average. The Tigers toppled the Bulldogs, 13-3, in eight innings April 18.
Southern Miss won 41 games en route to becoming the Sun Belt Tournament Champions. The Golden Eagles boast pitcher Tanner Hall, who is 10th in the nation with a 2.23 ERA. When Southern Miss faces Samford, it will mark its seventh consecutive postseason appearance. The two programs last met in 2016.
No. 4 seed Penn has not made an NCAA Tournament since 1995 but is returning after winning the inaugural Ivy League Baseball Tournament. At 32-14, the Quakers’ 4.00 ERA is ninth best in the country. Penn hurler Ryan Dromboski’s 2.87 ERA puts him in the top 40 out of all pitchers.
The Quakers will match up against the Tigers on Friday evening. The regional is set up in a double-elimination format, meaning a program must lose twice before exiting the tournament. The championship game is slated for Sunday, with an additional game scheduled Monday if the program with zero losses heading into the championship game drops it. The Auburn Regional winner will face the champion of the Clemson Regional, which consists of No. 4 overall seed Clemson, Tennessee, Charlotte and Lipscomb.
It’s Samford’s fourth time in the NCAA Tournament, with its first appearance coming in 2012. The last time the Bulldogs qualified was in 2021, which was their last season under the helm of head coach Casey Dunn before he took the same job at UAB.
David, who worked alongside Dunn at Samford since 2005, was then promoted to head coach. The furthest Samford has made it in the NCAA Tournament was when it reached the finals of the Tallahassee Regional in 2012.
“We feel like we’ve set that standard here, especially over the last five or six years, to any season that we play if we don’t get into this part of things in this part of postseason, we feel like it’s a little bit disappointing,” David said. “Obviously, our guys are excited about it.”