The Auburn High baseball team will try to take its first step toward a second-straight state title on Friday when they host Enterprise in the first round of the 7A state baseball playoffs.
The Tigers displayed their resilience the past two weeks, winning several extra-inning and one-run games in series wins over Smiths Station and Central to clinch the area championship.
It's good for the Tigers to get those big wins under their belts and head into the playoffs with some confidence, said AHS head coach Matt Cimo.
"I just think they’re winning close ball games. We’re like 14-2 in close ball games, so we’ve won one-run games, and I think that’s really big. They feel like they always have a chance to win," he said.
Cimo added that the Tigers are playing really well as a team right now, although he's still waiting on them to put everything together.
"Some days, our pitchers dominate; sometimes, we have really good defense; some days, we get big hits," said Cimo. "I don’t think this team’s really come together, and we all play well at one time. I’m kind of waiting for that to happen, and I hope they can find themselves and peak at the right time."
The Tigers (24-8) faced Enterprise twice this season, winning both home games by scores of 10-1 and 5-4, the latter ending with a walk-off hit to win. Those wins gave the Tigers an early-season boost and helped them build momentum, said Cimo, who added that it also could give Enterprise the confidence to know that they can compete with the Tigers.
"They know they had a chance to beat us last time, so I’m sure thinking a lot of positive thoughts," said Cimo, who added that facing the Wildcats is also a positive for the Tigers. "You know what they’re like. It kind of helps your confidence knowing what kind of ability they have."
The Tigers' late-season surge has given the team confidence that they can push that success into the postseason, although Cimo noted that the Tigers need to concentrate on "doing the little things" to make that happen.
"We’ve got to make the routine plays, and our pitchers have got to throw strikes, and we’ve got to put the ball in play and move runners over. And if we can do that, I think we have enough athletic ability where we can stay in games and win games," said.
The Tigers will lean on the experience of seniors Griffin Speaks, Jackson Arnold and Jake Waters, who all took part in the team's title run last season.
"They’re out senior leaders, along with Nick Owen and Slater (Greene), and those guys. Our seniors, they’ve experienced it, they’ve seen it. Now, they’ve just got to perform it," said Cimo, who added that the seniors' work ethic will set a good example for the younger players who haven't gone through the playoffs. "The younger guys see how hard these guys work, how prepared mentally and physically they get ready to play these games. I think that’s going to pay off a lot."
The Tigers will host Enterprise at 5 p.m. Friday, with the second game following shortly thereafter. If a deciding third game is needed, it will take place at 1 p.m. on Saturday.