TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Emotions were running high at Rhoads Stadium over the weekend.
They’re running high in the state as well, something that’s unlikely to change for a while.
It was just over a week ago that the Alabama softball team, which had a top-five ranking in the polls, was surprised to learn that it was the No. 8-seeded team in the NCAA Tournament.
It had won 50 games.
It won the Southeastern Conference regular-season title by four games, in a league that had all 13 teams make the 64-team field.
It went 9-1 against top-10 teams and swept the last two regular-season opponents it faced on the road: Then-No. 6 Florida and No. 9 LSU.
Yet the committee wasn’t impressed. The Gators edged out a 2-1 victory in the championship game of the SEC Tournament, and were seeded fifth.
It’s led to a lot of people wondering about the selection committee’s process
“A couple of were sitting behind me,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said about his own players at the selection show viewing. “I’m glad you guys couldn’t hear some things (being said).”
The real problem with being seeded eighth was that it gave the Crimson Tide both a tougher road to the Women’s College World Series, and the potential for the toughest matchup imaginable should it get there.
With Michigan trying to avoid being the only seeded team not to advance to a super regional — it was playing the final game of its regional against James Madison on Monday — Alabama is locked into facing the toughest opponent of all the host teams, No. 9 Texas.
Barring an upset, it’ll then open the World Series against No. 1 Oklahoma, in Oklahoma City.
“We talked about controlling the controllables the whole season, and that’s something that was out of our hands,” senior pitcher Courtney Gettins said. “We have to roll with it, it is what it is.”
One would think this would have put a huge chip on Alabama’s shoulder for the Tuscaloosa Regional, only the team didn’t play that way.
Both times it faced Arizona State, Alabama fell behind and had to come back to win. Knowing it can do that kind of thing can only help the Crimson Tide’s confidence, but it’s a dangerous way to live in the postseason.
It made for good viewing, though, and for one weekend the fans felt a little vindicated.
“I think they were more angry than us,” said senior Caroline Hardy, who had the key hit on Saturday.
Yet there’s something else that has people in the state riled up.
Women’s rights isn’t just a hot issue, but we’re talking about turn-to-ash volcano hot. Regardless of how one feels about the recent adoption of the nation’s most restrictive abortion law there are two things everyone can agree upon: 1) It’s a subject that’s not going away, and 2) It’s the kind of topic that could potentially split a team.
The players on the Alabama women’s softball team are arguably the most prominent female athletes in the state. They have the name on their jerseys and wear the same colors as the flag. Every game from here on will be on national television.
Should the Crimson Tide advance, they’ll almost certainly get asked about the issue in Oklahoma City. How will they react?
Moreover, it’s something that will be used against Alabama in recruiting. Again, regardless of how you feel about the law, prospects will hear nothing but the likes of “Why would you go there? They don’t respect women.”
“It’s a personal thing with a lot of people,” said Murphy, who at some point will likely have an open, closed-door discussion with the team.
“We’ve done it before with other issues, where it’s like an open forum, and give them a chance to talk about it. You try and be proactive instead of re-active, and get their opinion, talk with them.”
That’s what he did in dealing with the controversy surrounding athletes kneeling during the National Anthem. From Black Lives Matter to the confederate flag, it’s the latest example of sports spilling over into sports, and they seem to be happening with more frequency.
So in that respect, this is something that Murphy and the Crimson Tide already know how to handle.
The recruiting implications are something for him to worry about later, just like it’s too early to start thinking about Oklahoma. Right now his attention is on Texas and trying to keep everything his 23rd team has been working toward from slipping away.
“I think that we peak at the right time,” he said about the Crimson Tide’s five pitchers still being fresh and not having anyone overworked.
His team has all of the other key necessary ingredients to make a run, including hitting, speed and veteran leadership.
But the slope is still a little more slippery this year.