Softball Preview: #6 Alabama Opens NCAA Tournament Play [Audio]
In college athletics, one of the most satisfying feelings for a team is to see their hard work in the preseason and during the season get rewarded with an NCAA Tournament bid. This weekend, four teams will reap the fruits of their hard work as the Alabama Crimson Tide will host California, Samford and Texas State as part of the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional.
In what has become an annual tradition under head coach Patrick Murphy, the Alabama Crimson Tide will host an NCAA regional for the 12th straight season. In addition to hosting regionals seemingly every season, Alabama is one of eight schools who have made an NCAA regional in each of the last 18 seasons.
Alabama played a consistent brand of softball for the vast majority of the regular season winning seven of their eight SEC series and come into this weekend 46-12 on the year. As the No. 6 national seed, the Crimson Tide has a chance to host an NCAA super regional if they take care of business this weekend.
The biggest strength for the Crimson Tide throughout 2016 has been in the circle. During his Thursday morning appearance on The Gary Harris Show, Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy noted a key reason why the pitching staff has seen their momentum cool off since the series weekend at Texas A&M.
“One of the things that we had done well was we had been limiting our walks to opponents, and for whatever reason, they walked a couple of people in that game (game three at Texas A&M), and then that’s kind of hung around with us.” Murphy said.
As Alabama has grown into one of the top softball programs in America, the state of Alabama is also making a meteoric rise as one of the top states for college softball. Five teams from the borders of Alabama will appear in an NCAA regional including the Samford Bulldogs who will make their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance in Tuscaloosa.
Samford broke numerous individual and team records en route to a program best 40-18 record this season. For head coach Mandy Burford, senior pitcher Mollie Hanson and senior third baseman Callie Brister, the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional marks a homecoming weekend saw the city of Tuscaloosa play key roles in their softball careers.
Burford played on two College World Series teams during her playing days at Alabama from 2004-2007, Mollie Hanson began her collegiate pitching at Shelton State in 2012 and senior third baseman Callie Brister broke a number of state records at Hillcrest High School.
During her Wednesday visit on The Gary Harris Show, Burford mentioned a common theme for their journey toward a SoCon championship.
“I’m just really proud of everything that the girls have accomplished. It’s been a journey. They kind of came up with the motto to go over a cliff for one another, and I think that exemplifies everything they’ve done this season.” Buford said.
A big reason why Samford made history this season is Hanson’s stellar pitching. The senior from Dothan, Alabama, tossed a no-hitter vs. UNCG in her opening SoCon Tournament game last week. Since mid-March, the 2016 SoCon Pitcher of the Year has won 16 of her last 17 decisions.
In addition to Burford, one of Alabama’s all-time greatest softball players in Kelly Kretschman returns to Tuscaloosa as an assistant coach with Texas State. Kretschman was a four time All-American from 1998-2001 during the Crimson Tide’s early years as a softball program.
Texas State will make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2012 thanks to a late season surge. The Bobcats swept their last three Sun Belt Conference opponents to end the regular season followed by an appearance in the Sun Belt Tournament title game.
Texas State struggles at the plate as they are last in the Sun Belt with a .259 batting average. On the flip side, they have one of the best pitchers in the conference in sophomore Randi Rupp. Rupp leads the conference with 29 wins and is second with 316 strikeouts.
California makes the cross-country trip to participate in their 30th NCAA Tournament appearance. Veteran coach Diane Ninemire will make her 28th appearance in an NCAA Tournament as their head coach. Under her leadership, California won a national title in 2002 and has made seven trips to the Women’s College World Series.
This season, the Golden Bears survived an up and down season as they finished sixth out of nine teams in the Pac 12 with a 9-11-1 conference record. Statistically, Cal leads the Pac 12 with 63 stolen bases as a team. Individually, freshman Lindsay Rood is first in the Pac 12 with 21 stolen bases.
Weather permitting, regional play begins Friday with Cal facing Texas State at 1:30 PM while Alabama hosts Samford at 4 PM on the SEC Network.
College Softball Notes Around Alabama
-No. 4 national seed Auburn hosts OVC champion Jacksonville State at 1:30 PM in the opening game of the NCAA Auburn Regional for both teams
-SWAC champion Alabama State makes their NCAA Tournament debut against No. 1 overall seed and two-time defending national champion Florida. First pitch from Gainesville is at 1:30 PM on the SEC Network.
-North Alabama clinched their ticket to the NCAA Division II Women's College World Series with two victories over Southern Arkansas and a win over Adelphi. The Lions routed Southern Arkansas 10-2 in five innings to secure their spot in the championship game Friday against either Armstrong or Humboldt State.