After a 52-11 season last year that included both a regular season SEC championship and a SEC Tournament title, the Crimson Tide are back in action for the 2011 season starting tonight at the Hibbett/Easton All-Alabama Softball Classic. Though the 2010 season was a success by most objective standards, the last memory most of us have of Tide softball was the grand slam homer in game three of the Tuscaloosa Super Regional that advanced #16 seed Hawaii further into the NCAA Tournament and left the #1 national seed Tide at home.
The 2011 edition is once again primed for a run at a both SEC and national titles, with last year's SEC Pitcher of the Year and preseason All-SEC pitcher Kelsi Dunne back along with fellow preseason All-SEC selections Whitney Larsen and Kayla Braud. Braud, last season's SEC Freshman of the Year, broke the Alabama single season batting record with a .505 average while also collecting 75 hits, scored 95 runs and swiped 45 bases. Along with the preseason All-SEC selection, Braud has been named a preseason second team All-American. The rest of the roster is loaded with returning talent, with only second base currently up in the air:
"We're all driven toward the same goal right now, all working toward one goal," senior shortstop Whitney Larsen said. "We all feed off each other really well. Everybody's in it this year. I'm not saying it hasn't been like that in previous years, but you can feel something special with this team, and whatever it is it's working."
This is the inaugural edition of the Hibbett/Easton All-Alabama Softball classic, an event that will bring every Div 1 softball program in the state (Alabama, Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Auburn, Jacksonville State, Samford, South Alabama, Troy and UAB) together, and the Crimson Tide will face Samford, A&M, Jacksonville State, South Alabama, and Troy over three days. Tickets are $25 for a full pass (kids under 12 are $15) or $10 per day ($7 for the kids). A pdf of the full schedule can be found here.
The Crimson Tide will take the field in game four tonight at 6:00pm against the Samford Bulldogs. Per the RollTide.com scouting report:
The Bulldogs are beginning their first year under new head coach Stephanie VanBrakle. VanBrakle, a former All-American pitcher out of the University of Alabama, was hired May 10. She came to Samford after spending the last two seasons as the head coach at Birmingham-Southern. There, she posted a record of 57-14 in her two seasons with the Panthers, for an impressive .803 winning percentage. Last season, the Bulldogs posted a record of 19-31, winning nine games at Bulldog Field. Samford was led by returners Robyn Harmon and Alex Adams, who averaged .345 and .273 at the plate, respectively. The Bulldogs lost four seniors to graduation, but return the rest of the 2010 roster except for one. They also add two transfers from BSC and three freshmen to the 2011 roster.