Softball Preview: #4 Alabama Gets Set to Begin SEC Tournament Play
The regular season is in the history books as Alabama marks turns the page toward postseason play in the 20th season of Crimson Tide softball.
Alabama concluded another successful regular season with numerous representatives on an SEC postseason team. For the third straight season, the SEC named center fielder Haylie McCleney to the first team. Junior pitcher Sydney Littlejohn and senior infielder Leona Lafaele collected 2nd Team All-SEC honors while catcher Reagan Dykes made the conference’s All-Freshman team. The Crimson Tide saw senior Kallie Case, McCleney and Lafaele all received recognition on the SEC All-Defensive Team.
With the regular season complete, Alabama makes the short trek to the west on Highway 82 to Starkville to compete in the 2016 SEC Tournament. The Crimson Tide opens as the five seed and will face twelfth seeded Mississippi State.
The two teams met a month ago in Tuscaloosa with Alabama dominating in a three-game sweep of Mississippi State. The Crimson Tide outscored the Bulldogs by a combined score 23-2. In the series, Alabama scored 21 of their 23 runs with two outs.
For Mississippi State, the struggles continued after leaving Tuscaloosa, the Bulldogs lost 12 of their last 17 games including their last 11 SEC games to end the regular season. Mississippi State managed to schedule one last non-conference game on Monday. Sophomore pitcher Cassidy Knudsen no-hit Alcorn State in an 8-0 victory for Mississippi State.
With a 26-30 record overall, Mississippi State is the only team in the SEC Tournament whose only hope of receiving an NCAA Tournament bid is to win the conference tournament. Coming into this week, 11 SEC teams are ranked in the top 27 of this week’s NCAA RPI rankings.
If Alabama takes care of Mississippi State, they would face Auburn in the first matchup of the season between the two teams. The Tigers performed like one of the best teams in the country through most of the season until fading down the stretch in the final two weeks of the regular season.
Auburn and Florida were tied for first in the SEC with two weeks to go until the Tigers lost two games at Tennessee and two of three at home against Texas A&M. The eighth ranked Tigers once again have one of the most explosive offenses in the SEC. Auburn leads the conference in runs scored, walks and come in second in the SEC in home runs.
Individually, senior Tiffany Howard leads the SEC with 78 hits while junior Kasey Cooper tops the conference with 19 round trippers and is second in the SEC with 73 RBIs.
Alabama begins SEC Tournament play Wednesday evening with first pitch at 6:30 PM on the SEC Network. If the Crimson Tide beats Mississippi State, they would face Auburn Thursday at 6:30 PM on the SEC Network.
College Softball Notes Around Alabama:
-With Samford winning the SoCon regular season title, the Bulldogs will have a first day bye in the SoCon Tournament and will face the winner of UNCG vs. ETSU Thursday at 11:30 AM central. Tuesday was a big awards day for Samford as head coach Mandy Burford won SoCon Coach of the Year, senior outfielder Megan Dowdy as SoCon Player of the Year and senior Mollie Hanson as SoCon Pitcher of the Year. Tuscaloosa native Callie Brister along with Dowdy and Hanson were selected as 1st Team All-SoCon members.
-OVC regular season champion Jacksonville State makes the short trip to the new Choccolocco Park in Oxford, Alabama, where they’ll open the OVC Softball Championship as the top seed against eighth seeded Murray State Wednesday at 5:30 PM. Similar to Samford, JSU took home plenty of awards from the OVC. Head coach Jana McGinnis took home OVC Coach of the Year after winning her 800th career game over the weekend. Senior Ella Denes won OVC Player of the Year while sophomore Whitney Gillespie took home OVC Pitcher of the Year.
-Despite a season ending series loss at North Texas, UAB earned a number two seed and first day bye in the Conference USA Softball Championship. The Blazers open tournament play Thursday at 4:30 PM.
-South Alabama and Troy are set for the Sun Belt Conference Championship hosted by South Alabama. The Trojans open the tournament Wednesday at 12:30 PM against UT-Arlington while the Jaguars have a first day bye as the number two seed.
-Alabama State and Alabama A&M head to Irondale, Alabama, to open the 2016 SWAC Softball Tournament. Alabama A&M opens versus SWAC regular season champion Texas Southern while Alabama State takes on Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Both games begin at 5:30 PM as the two games will be played on separate fields within the Shea Brothers Softball Complex.