The Alabama softball team, the No. 2 seed nationally, used a dominant two-hit performance in the circle from Jackie Traina and some timely hitting by sophomore Kaila Hunt to knock off South Alabama, 5-2, Saturday afternoon at Rhoads Stadium in game three of the 2012 NCAA Softball Tuscaloosa Regional. With the win the Crimson Tide advances to Sunday's regional championship game. "I knew that it was going to be a much better game than it was in February," Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy said. "Both pitchers pitched pretty well. We made a couple of plays defensively. We put the ball in play. [Kaila] Hunt had a very good day. She took advantage of a slip in the outfield, which turned into three runs for us. I am glad that we took advantage of that. Sometimes we let it slip through our hands. Today we came up with some key at bats after that mistake."
Alabama doesn't face deficits all too often when it hosts NCAA Regionals, something it's done every year since 2005. When it does, like it did Saturday after South Alabama jumped to a 1-0 lead in the second inning, the Crimson Tide doesn't let it last very long. Every time it's fallen behind since its last NCAA Regional loss, a 4-2 stunner to Tennessee Tech in 2007, Alabama has rallied to either tie the score or take the lead for good in its very next at-bats. On Saturday, Alabama chose the latter, as it responded with a three-run third inning and never looked back in its 5-2 victory over the Jaguars. "It's not a bad thing. It showed that we could come back," Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. "I don't think anybody panicked in the dugout. Everybody believed that eventually we could do it."
Apart from two pitches, Traina dominated the game pitching for Alabama. She improved to 34-2 on the year and will be counted on even more as the Tide tries to advance deep in postseason play. "They just weren’t my best pitches. If you just leave them there, it’s gonna happen," Traina said about the two home runs. "It was nice to get my body feeling back to as good as it can feel and my legs felt good, I wasn’t sore. It felt good." With the win, Alabama advances to the Regional final on Sunday at 1 p.m from Rhoads Stadium. The Tide will play whichever team among Georgia Tech, Tennessee Martin or South Alabama comes out of the loser’s bracket. "This was the important game," Murphy said. "You don’t want to keep playing today and then sit back and see who wins. They have to battle it out."
Kaila Hunt had a game plan when she came up to the plate in the third inning Saturday at the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional. After going down without swinging in the first inning, looking at a called third strike, Hunt told herself it wasn't going to happen again. Hunt worked the count full, then fouled off three two-strike pitches that appeared to be out of the strike zone. Finally, she cranked a two-run home run that bounded off the scoreboard in left field. Hunt's homer gave Alabama a lead that it never surrendered in a 5-2 victory over South Alabama in the winner's bracket semifinal. The victory advanced the Crimson Tide (52-7) to today's championship round. Alabama will move on to next week's super regional round with one victory today, and must lose twice to be eliminated. UA's afternoon victory left Georgia Tech, Tennessee-Martin and South Alabama to play into the evening to earn the berth opposite the Crimson Tide in the title round. "This was the important game," Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. "They have to battle it out."
South Alabama was in such a hurry to get a rematch with Alabama, it only needed five innings to dispatch of Georgia Tech in Saturday night's elimination game. All the Jaguars had to do was walk to get there. After dropping its winners' bracket game against Alabama, 5-2, South Alabama rested for a few hours and promptly pounced on Georgia Tech to earn a spot in today's championship game against the No. 2 national seed Crimson Tide. Thanks to eight walks and three hit batters, the Jaguars only needed five hits in their 10-1, five-inning victory over the Yellow Jackets. "That was a tremendous bounce back for our club," South Alabama coach Becky Clark said. "To rebound like that, it shows the character they have, a resiliency they have. They love to play the game."
3. Alabama Crimson Tide
Previous rank: 2
Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban seems determined to make sure the BCS national champion's defense goes smoother this season. After winning a BCS title in 2009, the Crimson Tide finished 10-3 in 2010. Alabama will have to rebuild its defense after losing star linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw and All-America safety Mark Barron. Saban really likes linebackers Adrian Hubbard and Xzavier Dickson, and juco transfer Deion Blue helped solidify the secondary during the spring. Quarterback AJ McCarron said the Tide plan to open up their offense with a downfield passing game this coming season, but it's hard to imagine them not running the ball often behind what might be one of the best offensive lines in school history.
2. Alabama: While the defending national champs saw a lot of "new" faces on defense this spring, coach Nick Saban left happy with where his players were -- but not satisfied. There is still work to be done, especially in the secondary, where the Tide must replace three starters. Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are gone at linebacker, but the coaches were impressed with how Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard played this spring. Some think Hubbard, a redshirt sophomore, could be Bama's top pass-rusher. Offensively, quarterback AJ McCarron is back, more mature and surrounded by a very veteran line. He has a group of younger receivers to throw to, but has at least four quality running backs. Alabama's road to repeating is tougher, with games at Arkansas and LSU.
After a few autographs and a quick tour inside, the coach praised the discipline, teamwork, and leadership it takes to serve our country. Coach Saban told News Leader 9 how thankful he is for every soldier. "What they do to preserve our freedom, our safety as a nation. The sacrifice they make. I mean it is tough now just to get people to serve someone else let alone sacrifice to serve your country," said Saban.
After a relatively quiet week, the Bengals got one piece of major business out of the way with the signing of one of their two first-round picks. The club has signed cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who was the 17th overall selection, to a four-year deal worth $8.6 million with $7.84 million fully guaranteed. "It is a big relief," said Kirkpatrick of getting the contract done. "It’s a new beginning and new steps for me."