The Alabama softball team (42-13) is making its 15th trip to the NCAA Tournament as the Crimson Tide will host the Tuscaloosa Regional this weekend at Rhoads Stadium. UA is hosting a regional for the 11th time overall and ninth time in a row. Tournament action will begin on Friday as Western Kentucky (41-16) will face USC Upstate (41-10) at 3:30 p.m. CDT. Alabama and Jacksonville State (30-25) will follow at 6 p.m.
“It’s a different atmosphere,” Braud said, “because there’s something greater on the line than just a regular season win – it’s postseason, it’s something special in the air when postseason comes around. Teams play harder, we play harder. The fans are louder and crazier and more into the games and it’s just a special experience.
“(Catcher) Molly Fichtner hasn’t ever been in a regional before. She had this big grin on her face after Murph (coach Patrick Murphy) was talking about it. That’s a regional – it’s something special that not everybody gets to experience. You are playing for your life and it makes playing softball that much greater – when something’s on the line, when something bigger is on the line.”
Alabama doesn’t come into the tournament having had the hot season of some past. Bama finished as the eighth seed in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, and then was ousted in its second game in failing to defend that championship. Now much bigger championships are on the line. Bama hopes to win another NCAA Regional, then win an NCAA Regional to advance to the Women’s College World Series. Do that, and Bama may be able to repeat as national champion.
Murphy found some momentum going into the tournament.
In the first game of the SEC Tournament against Texas A&M, it looked as though the Crimson Tide was going to be the first team to go home. But Danielle Richard, down to the last strike in the game, laced a triple that scored two runs and gave Bama the come-from-behind win.
Murphy called that one of the biggest keys of the season. It came in Bama 54th game, but now if the Tide is in a tight spot it can lean on that experience, the Tide coach said.
Murphy said, “You can look at years and there are some teams that just ended the year horribly and ended up in the World Series or as a national champion – in all sports, not just softball.
This will be the first NCAA Regional Tournament for Western Kentucky and USC Upstate. Alabama’s first opponent, however, Jacksonville State is what Murphy called “a regular in this tournament.”
Jacksonville State Coach Jana McGinnis said it was an honor for her team to be in the tournament, said that playing in a regional in Tuscaloosa is an experience second only to the Women’s College World Series. “Alabama always puts on a first class tournament, and we will get to experience it,” she said.
Braud is riding a 20-game hitting streak, that started on March 30 at Texas A&M. Braud tallied a hit in every game she played in the month of April. Over the streak the fleet-footed outfielder is batting .529 (36-for-68) with 22 runs, eight RBI, four doubles and seven stolen bases. This is the second longest hitting streak for the All-America as Braud put together a 28-game streak that spanned from the end of her freshman campaign to early in her sophomore season. She also hit in 19-straight in 2011.
Alabama is the number one seed in the tournament, Western Kentucky No. 2, USC Upstate third, and Jacksonville State the No. 4 seed. Western Kentucky won the Sun Belt regular season, USC Upstate won the A-Sun Tournament, and the Gamecocks won the Ohio Valley Conference tournament.
Offensively JSU is batting .275 with 35 home runs and 33 stolen bases. The Gamecocks have outscored their opponents, 270-238. In the circle JSU has a 3.32 ERA and has struck out 332 in 377 innings while allowing opponents to hit .272. Individually JSU is led by Sara Borders and Krystal Ruth. Borders leads the team in nearly all offensive categories with a .366 average, 17 doubles, 11 home runs, 41 RBI and eight stolen bases. Ruth follows with a .341 average, a team-best 43 runs and 77 hits while adding three home runs and 27 RBI. In the circle, Tiffany Harbin is 17-13 with a 2.64 ERA. She has struck out 261 in 222 1/3 innings. Head coach Jana McGinnis is in her 20th year at JSU and has compiled a 686-312 overall record.
Alabama is 16-0 all-time vs. Jacksonville State, including an 11-3 Tide win earlier this season.
The Crimson Tide earned its 15th consecutive NCAA tournament bid in 2013. In just 17 years of existence, the Alabama softball program is about to play in its 15th NCAA Regional and has played in eight Super Regionals. The Tide has advanced to an NCAA Regional in every season under Murphy. The Crimson Tide has a 64-29 record in NCAA tournament action (including regional (38-9), super regional (13-5) and World Series (13-15)) and have won 10 NCAA Regional titles (2000, `03, `05, `06, `07, `08, `09, `10, `11 and `12), including eight in a row and six Super Regional titles (2005, '06, '08, '09, '11 & `12). This is the ninth consecutive year Alabama has been selected to host an NCAA Regional and 11th overall.
Alabama enters the Tuscaloosa Regional with a 20-12 record against teams that made the 2013 NCAA tournament field.
Everyone talks RPI, that mysterious number that supercedes a won-loss record in NCAA play. In the eighth and latest RPI ranking Alabama is fifth in the nation, up one spot from last week. Five Tide opponents this year are in the top 10 and two more in the top 25.