The second seeded Alabama softball team opened the Tuscaloosa Regional with a 5-1 win, Friday night at Rhoads Stadium. With the victory the Crimson Tide improves to 51-7 overall and 36-9 in NCAA first round regional play. "Tennessee Martin represented themselves very well," Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy said. "You can tell that they are champions of their league after the first inning. Baseball and softball are games where the law of averages are sometimes with you and sometimes against you. We had 11 hits and five runs, and then some nights you will have five hits and 11 runs."
While Alabama's players sat through Friday's first NCAA Regional game at Rhoads Stadium, No. 1 seeds from all parts of the country were falling victim to upsets. Alabama coach Patrick Murphy was following along, fully aware that Texas, Tennessee and Florida had all succumbed to teams with inferior talent inside their respective home stadiums. His players, though, were entirely in the dark. It was by choice. "As soon as you put the jersey on, it's like we get blinders on and tunnel vision," second baseman Danae Hays said. "As soon as we take the jersey off tonight, we'll go home, get on Twitter and see that stuff, but it doesn't affect us while we're on the field."
Once again, senior Amanda Locke was in the circle to pitch for Alabama’s ace Jackie Traina. And once again, she showed why the Crimson Tide is not just a one-pitcher team as it begins postseason play. Locke allowed just one run and three hits as Alabama took down the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks 5-1 in the first game of the NCAA Softball Tuscaloosa Regional. The win means Alabama will play the South Alabama Jaguars on Saturday at 1 p.m. with a chance to advance to the Regional final on Sunday. “It just really talks about how good our pitching staff is,” senior Jennifer Fenton said. “We don’t have to rely on one person to do everything. It’s great for Amanda to come in, and she just threw her game and that’s what we ask her to do.”
There have been few days this season when Jackie Traina hasn't had some kind of contact with ice to relieve the stress and pressure that comes with pitching 218 innings over a three-month stretch. That ice just never comes anywhere near the right shoulder that helped Alabama win the SEC regular season and tournament titles and has the Crimson Tide poised to return to the Women's College World Series for the fourth time in five years. "I never ice my arm," Traina said. "It's never bothered me." Traina's relationship with the universal cure-all for most sports-related aches and pains is exclusively related to the lower body. Before starts, after starts, or any other time she's feeling the need, Traina will soak her legs in an ice tub. It's a simple procedure that's allowed her to stay fresh during a sophomore season in which she's shown no signs of fatigue when Alabama has needed her to pull extended duty inside the circle. "We do it so we can be able to pitch her back to back days," Alabama pitching coach Stephanie VanBrakle said of the ice baths. "Or so she can be able to pitch 600 pitches in two weeks."
"A lot of us were either sore or tired," Fenton said. "We just knew we had one more game to do, we had to play Florida on our own field and we were not going to let them beat us on our field for the SEC tournament title. That was motivation enough, playing in front of our crowd at home. "After all we've been through this year, I think we're very mentally tough and we're very prepared to play anyone with the right mind set. We can do it." Players began to realize in March that the demanding schedule had an upside. "We talked about in the middle of the season how this was going to pay off later on, that you're not always going to feel 100 percent, especially in a 65-game season," Reilly-Boccia said. "You're not going to be feeling great every game, it's how much of what you have that you give. You want to give all of whatever you have. I think we've been able to win on our 'B' days. We don't always have to have our 'A' game to win.
An injury during Pitek's sophomore season left her sidelined and looking for ways to spend her time besides running and practicing with her teammates. "I didn't really have a lot else to do so I went across the street to the softball stadium and decided to watch a game. I sat with a pretty rowdy group of fans and it was impossible not to join in." "What was really impressive to me was that the coaches and players seemed to be inviting that environment. It's a really unique sports experience. You are right there just a few feet away from the players. You can see the sweat on their foreheads and you can hear everything they are saying to each other. It's like being right in the middle of the game." That intimate environment has been a major factor in the growth of Alabama softball's popularity among Crimson Tide fans, according to Pitek, and has been an element that head coach Patrick Murphy has actively fostered. "I think women's athletics is all about engaging the fans. Coach Murphy and the players are all so likable anyway but when you see them participating in the cheers with the crowd and doing so much to acknowledge the fans, it really makes everyone in the stadium feel like they are a part of something. This team understands how to get the fans on your side."
It’s nice to see Alabama stick to its script. This has been the program’s modus operandi since Saban’s arrival: schedule up at least once during non-conference play, preferably early, so as to gauge your team’s strengths heading into SEC season. Nick Saban isn’t scared, and it doesn’t hurt that he and his staff have months to prepare for a Virginia Tech, Penn State or West Virginia.
While every recruit can see the game broadcast nationally, regardless of location, it's the pre-game hype that really matters. The Chick-Fil-A folks will market the heck out of the game throughout Atlanta and the state, and that gives even more exposure to the Crimson Tide in a state that has treated Saban And Co. quite well over the last few years.
The SEC is trying to get a playoff format that picks the four best teams. We know the Big Ten and probably the Pac-12 favor a playoff format with conference champions. The SEC lost an ally this week for choosing the four best teams when the ACC suddenly changed positions to the conference-champion option. The Big 12 hasn't spoken yet. Its voice is crucial for the SEC. Does this alliance mean the Big 12, which must decide how its playoff interests are affected without having its own conference championship game, supports the SEC's wish to choose the best four teams? In separate news releases, the SEC and Big 12 made it abundantly clear they believe they're the best football conferences. The SEC and Big 12 share the most all-time top-four finishes in the final BCS standings. Over the past four years, the 2012 SEC and Big 12 members made up 12 of the 16 top-four finishers in the BCS.
Friday's release left things intentionally vague, saying: "The champions of the two conferences will be in the matchup unless one or both are selected to play in the new four-team [playoff]. Should that occur, another deserving team from the conference(s) would be selected for the game." If that's the case, we could see a move toward rotating the semifinal sites annually on a predetermined basis. One thing's for certain: It's going to be a trying and nerve-racking year for the current BCS bowls. The conferences are expected to announce their chosen playoff format in late June or early July. Whichever one they choose, they'll do so before beginning negotiations with specific bowls. The Rose Bowl is its own animal. It will do whatever best suits the Big Ten and Pac-12. But now, none of the other current games -- Fiesta, Sugar and Orange -- are guaranteed anything. Neinas strongly hinted that the SEC and Big 12 will open up the bidding for their new game to any interested party with a deep enough wallet. It's reasonable to assume that includes Jerryworld in Dallas, but it may not even be an existing bowl. It could be some other geographically sensible city (Houston, San Antonio, etc.). It could rotate. The conferences could theoretically start and operate the game themselves, thus retaining all the revenue, though more realistically they'll simply work out a more favorable distribution agreement with an existing organization.
Delany and PAC-12 Commissioner Larry Scott have both expressed strong desire to maintain their relationship with the Rose Bowl, which itself had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the BCS rotation. Their goal is to have at least one of the semifinal games in the new playoff played in Pasadena (assuming that the Big 10 and PAC-12 can both get teams in the four team field). Hypothetically, a scenario is possible wherein the Big 10, PAC-12 and ACC all get final four berths along with Notre Dame at large. While that hasn’t happened yet, it’s certainly within the realm of possibilities. This is especially true if teams not named Notre Dame must be conference champs and the teams are selected by a human committee in some smoky backroom in Indianapolis. The folks who’ve watched six straight SEC teams win the BCS Championship were drooling over this; praying for it to happen, even. Until Friday afternoon. In the doomsday scenario above, a highly ranked SEC team will play a highly ranked Big 12 team on New Year’s Day, in prime time. Maybe the winning team won’t hoist a crystal ball, but it might host the AP Trophy while the two conferences rake in the cash.
Why did the SEC and Big 12 want to do this? To protect each other and to increase the likelihood of a quality matchup in the bowl game. Under the current BCS format their champions were guaranteed a spot in a big game but the opponent on the other side was uncertain. In 2007 No. 5 Georgia faced Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. In 2009 Florida played Cincinnati. Both were blowouts. This agreement guarantees an SEC/Big 12 matchup in the New Year's Day bowl. If a four-team playoff had been in place last season, this game could have hosted No. 6 Arkansas (whose only losses were to No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama), and No. 8 Kansas State (10-2). "We feel this is an example of how conferences can work together to make the system better," Slive said.
LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis knew the question was coming. Really, though, a score would have sufficed. Alabama 21, LSU 0. The Tigers' crushing defeat in January's BCS national championship game, played in the Superdome, just a 90-minute drive from the LSU campus, gave Les Miles' talented squad a starting point for the 2012 season. "You live with (the loss to Alabama) a long time," said Chavis, who appeared with offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe at the Tiger Tour '12 at the Hard Rock Biloxi on Thursday night. "You don't want to forget it. Anytime you lose the last game, it's going to linger ... You don't make excuses. Our kids went back to work the next week in the weight room."
Look at the merchandising sales from our college teams. They rival NFL royalties. There are about 195,000 fans who criss-cross our state every SEC weekend. If simply a third of those die-hards followed the Alabama War Elephants, that's maybe 65,000 fans ready to buy a ticket. Could we live with another day of fall tailgating? Our state's top export is football. Maybe a big-time NFL team that we all could support would be some real Alabama United stuff.
Electronic Arts isn't escaping a lawsuit brought by former collegiate athletes who allege a conspiracy to forbid them from profiting from their images and likenesses in sports video games. On Wednesday, a California federal judge denied EA's attempt to score a quick win. The athletes, including Jim Brown, Sam Keller and Ed O'Bannan, claim that when athletes agree to participate in Division I collegiate sports, they're told to sign a waiver agreement that gives the NCAA and its licensees the right to use their images, likenesses, and names without compensation. The athletes say that these agreements have been interpreted to exist in perpetuity, even after the student-athletes have ended their collegiate playing career. Further, the athletes allege that the NCAA and its partners have come to their own agreements to not pay collegiate athletes and to refuse to bargain with them whatsoever.