Alabama Softball Preview: NCAA Tournament Play Begins
Friday afternoon, Alabama softball will host an NCAA Regional for the 13th consecutive season. Alabama, Minnesota, Louisiana Tech and Albany comprise the four-team regional field in Tuscaloosa.
Coming into the NCAA Tournament, the four-team field in Tuscaloosa has posted a combined record of 157-57 with Minnesota, Louisiana Tech and Albany winning conference tournaments in the Big 10, Conference-USA and the America East Conference respectively.
Moving on from Selection Sunday
Despite a 54-3 record, a first place finish in the Big 10, a Big 10 Tournament title and road wins over Cal, Texas, LSU and Oregon State, the NCAA Selection Committee did not reward the Golden Gophers with the opportunity to host a regional.
Minnesota head coach Jessica Allister spoke about her team’s transition from the shock of Selection Sunday to preparing for NCAA Tournament play.
“I think we have gotten better every day. I think it’s unrealistic to say that as soon as it happens and you’re dealt a shot and a blow like that, that you’re just going to bounce back and say, ‘OK let’s go!’ That’s not real, but I have been impressed with the leadership on our team of moving forward.” Allister said. “We’re number one and three in the two major polls coming into postseason. For us to not be excited and to not feel great about ourselves, it doesn’t make any sense. So here we are and let’s go.”
Standing by the Schedule
After Selection Sunday, the NCAA D1 Softball Committee justified their decision to send Minnesota on the road due to the lack of wins against the RPI Top 25 and a strength of schedule ranked at No. 114.
When asked about adjusting her scheduling philosophy, Allister defended her team’s 2017 non-conference schedule.
“No! We went to Texas and played them twice on their field, then we go to the ACC-Big 10 Challenge and play NC State and Notre Dame, and then we go to LSU, and then we go to Fresno (State), and then we go to Washington, and then we go to Cal and then we go to Oregon State. You’re telling me at the beginning of the year, you look at that schedule, and you don’t think that’s strong?” Allister stated.
Each of the four teams in the field believes that they can play the role of the underdog in some way, shape or fashion.
Albany and Louisiana Tech are representing smaller conferences with an attitude that they have nothing to lose.
During Thursday’s press conference, Albany head coach Chris Cannata touched on her team’s ability to handle the Rhoads Stadium atmosphere and how her team’s role as the underdog can be an advantage against a tradition rich program like Alabama.
“Just not to get overwhelmed by the moment. The pressure certainly shifts to the teams that are supposed to win. Nobody, I think, in the park is thinking we’re going to come out here and win tomorrow. The pressure does shift to them (Alabama) at least for that reason.” Cannata said.
While Albany takes on Alabama, Louisiana Tech opens regional play against No. 1 Minnesota. Louisiana Tech head coach Mark Montgomery acknowledged the difficult assignment for his team but noted his team’s ability and the opportunity to showcase it Friday afternoon.
“We know we’re talented, and we feel like we’re an awfully good team and we know we belong and so we just want to go out and have the opportunity to show that on the field.” Montgomery said.
In most circumstances, a team entering regional play with a 54-3 record would be considered a heavy favorite. For Minnesota, the status of underdog is part of their team identity.
“I don’t think it matters who we play or where we play them. We always feel like the underdog, and I think that’s a good thing.” Allister said.
Historically, Alabama has dominated the field in regional play having advanced to the super regional round for 12 straight seasons. With a top ranked team in Minnesota and two other conference champions in the field, Crimson Tide head coach Patrick Murphy is embracing his team’s role as an underdog.
“We’ve been No. 1 as the host but we’ve never had the No. 1 team in the country at the regional as the two seed. I think that just adds a lot more spice to it.” Murphy said. “They’re all champions. We’re kind of the underdog, and I’d rather be that way to tell you the truth.”
Players to Watch
In any NCAA regional, players making plays can be the difference between advancing in the postseason and hanging up the gear for the summer.
In this weekend’s regional, Albany has one of the top sluggers in the America East Conference in Elizabeth Snow. The senior catcher leads the America East with 20 doubles, and is second in home runs (13) and RBIs (46).
For Minnesota, two players have carried the team to a top national ranking. Senior Sara Groenwegen is third in college softball with 30 wins and a 0.59 ERA. From the plate, freshman Kendyl Lindaman is seventh in the country with 20 round trippers and is third in college softball with 74 RBIs only two behind teammate Sydney Dwyer with 76 RBIs.
NCAA regional play from Tuscaloosa begins at 1:30 with Minnesota clashing against La Tech while Alabama faces Albany at 4 PM.
College Softball around Alabama
The Auburn Tigers host ETSU, Notre Dame and Cal as the No. 7 national seed. Auburn gets underway at 3:30 pm following Notre Dame’s battle against Cal at 1 PM.
A few hours away in Tallahassee, Florida, Jacksonville State faces Georgia in their opening NCAA Tournament game. First pitch is at 3:30 PM followed by Florida State against Princeton at 6 PM.