TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Had the past week been a college softball tournament, Patrick Murphy’s Team 23 would have gone 4-1.
The week included two SEC Tournament wins, a loss in the finals, and finding out it put itself in position to host both an NCAA raegional and super regional.
That last “win” of getting a top-eight seed and being able to host a super regional is a key to getting back to Oklahoma City, site of the Women’s College World Series.
Turns out the number eight is on the UA team room wall again. It started there when SEC coaches voted Alabama eighth in the preseason poll. It continued when a team that apparently did enough on the field to earn a top five national seed got — you guessed it — an eight.
Shortly after his team watched the NCAA Selection Show on ESPN2, Murphy said, “Number eight was our motivating factor all year long, so what the hell; we're going to use it again. I think it was a quote by (softball super fan/soccer alum) Emily Pitek: 'Never anger an elephant.' So we're going to ride this all the way to Oklahoma City."
Added senior catcher Reagan Dykes, “I felt we proved ourselves in SEC play. I felt that was enough to move us higher (than an eight) in NCAA seeding. Earlier in the year when we saw we were picked to finish eighth in the SEC we took that to heart.
“For me personally I felt like (an eight seed) was a little disappointing. We swept (No. 5 seed) Florida at Florida who placed higher than us. We beat (No. 6) Arizona at Arizona and we beat (No. 7) Minnesota (twice) at home.”
Alabama (52-7) will open NCAA Tournament play at 5:30 p.m. CT against Alabama State, which has a record of 24-23. The Hornets won the SWAC tournament to qualify.
Murphy was not ready to tip his hand yet on who will start for the Crimson Tide in the circle. The first game of the Tuscaloosa Regional will pit Lipscomb against Arizona State at 3:30 p.m.
The week began Thursday with a dramatic eight inning 3-2 win over Georgia in the SEC tournament quarterfinals at College Station, Texas. The hero was freshman second baseman Skylar Wallace, who drilled a 3-2 Kylie Bass pitch deep into the Lone Star State night leading off the bottom of the eighth.
Montana Fouts went the distance to pick up her 15th win, walking three and striking out nine Bulldogs. The freshman right-hander was also named one of 10 finalists for the Schutt Sports /NFCA Freshman of the Year award.
Friday saw a matchup of the SEC Pitcher of the Year, Alabama’s Sarah Cornell, and the SEC Player of the Year, Kentucky’s Abby Cheek. The Crimson Tide won 6-3 behind a six-run second inning. A bases-clearing three-run double by KB Sides was the killer blow.
Cornell got her 21st win with 5 2/3 innings of seven-hit ball. Junior Krystal Goodman came on to pitch the final 1 1/3 frames to pick up her first career save.
Goodman drew the start in the title game against Florida and held her own for 3 2/3 innings. The Gators got three hits but did not score on her.
Fouts pitched well in relief but gave up a two-run double to All-American senior first baseman Amanda Lorenz in the top of the sixth. That line drive on a 3-2 count proved to be decisive when it landed just fair down the left field line.
“Tonight it was just a matter of them getting their best hitter up to bat with two outs and two on and she came through," Murphy said after the game. "Just threaded the needle and their kid, Kelly (Barnhill), pitched a good game.
“We just didn’t do enough offensively. We had bases loaded and one out, and the strikeout killed us along with the groundout to the pitcher. We need to put the ball in play in those situations and good things could happen. We just need to learn from that and get better for next weekend (in regionals).”
Fouts, Sides and Wallace all were named to the SEC All-Tournament team.