"It's awfully exciting this time of year. We are at the light at the end of the tunnel. I know we have a very tough opponent in Michigan. It's always fun to play Coach Hutchins and her team. We love their coaching staff. We have great respect for them and what they've done in the Big Ten. They've done something that no one else east of the Mississippi River has done. They've won a national championship. I think all schools east of the Mississippi look up to them, especially in the cold weather climate. What they've accomplished in softball is tremendous. I think it's going to be a great series. I hope we have a ton of fans. The Thursday night game is always fun. I remember last year it was a huge crowd. It should be some really good softball."
Since the start of Alabama's stretch of eight wins in nine games -- victories that have clinched the SEC's regular season and tournament titles and allowed the Crimson Tide to advance from last weekend's four-team NCAA Regional unscathed -- Braud and Fenton have combined to hit .446 (25-for-56), walk 11 times, steal 16 bases and score 22 runs. The rest of the Crimson Tide's lineup has combined for 29 runs during that stretch. "We've been getting on at the same time and it's because we've been doing extra and been finding a way to gel," Braud said. "That's exactly what we've been trying to do all year and we're peaking at the right time."
The Wolverines of Michigan enters the Super Regional with a 42-15 record after winning the Louisville Regional last weekend. Michigan opened up with a 3-2, walk-off victory over Kentucky, after freshman Sara Driesenga hit a two-out, two-run double in the bottom of the seventh inning to win it. The Wolverines followed that up with another walk-off victory, this time over the host team and 15th seed Louisville Cardinals, 2-1, in eight innings. Michigan loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth inning, and sophomore Caitlin Blanchard was hit by a pitch to force the winning run across. Michigan won the regional by again defeating Louisville, this time, 4-0, to advance. Senior infielder Amy Chidester leads UM with a .351 (60-for-171) batting average with nine home runs and 45 runs batted in. Junior Ashley Lane has hit 11 home runs with 39 RBI on the year. Michigan is led in the circle by freshman pitcher Haylie Wagner, who has gone 32-5 on the year, including victories in all three regional games this past weekend. The 32 wins are a school record for a freshman. Wagner has posted a 1.46 ERA and has 153 strikeouts in 239 innings of work. The Wolverines are led by head coach Carol Hutchins, who has gone 1,251-422-4 in 28 seasons in charge.
“I know we have a very tough opponent in Michigan,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. “It’s always fun to play coach (Carol) Hutchins and her team. I think all schools east of the Mississippi look up to them, especially in the cold weather climate. What they’ve accomplished in softball is tremendous. I think it’s going to be a great series.” Hutchins, one of the most respected softball coaches in the country, returns the compliment, pointing out how she has approached Murphy and his staff for hitting tips in recent years. “I’ve gotten to know Patrick over the years,” she said. “We got a lot of the drills that we use today from Patrick Murphy. He’s a fantastic coach; he’s a great professional. He’s one of the stars of our profession.”
Maybe the past few years came too easy for the Michigan softball team. In 2011, they finished 53-6, but the season ended abruptly in the regional round in Ann Arbor. In 2010, the record was an impressive 49-8, but that year ended in a Super Regional sweep by Tennessee, also in Ann Arbor. This season has been more of a struggle. The Wolverines won the Big Ten title, though they did it on the final day of the regular season. They won the regional in Louisville, Ky., last weekend, but needed two walk-off victories. As the No. 21 Wolverines enter the Super Regional against No. 3 Alabama today and Friday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., they are energized by this season's challenges.
This May is a little different for Haylie Wagner. Michigan's star freshman softball pitcher committed in March 2010, so she has had two full springs of watching the Wolverines' postseason runs and hoping for the best from afar. Neither of the past two seasons worked out well: Tennessee swept U-M in the Ann Arbor Super Regional in 2010 and Kentucky bounced Michigan from the regional round in 2011. Wagner, the Big Ten's freshman and pitcher of the year, gets to do more than watch this week as No. 21 U-M faces No. 3 Alabama in the super regional Thursday and Friday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. She'll take the ball, probably for all the games, with the likely trip to the Women's College World Series on her arm.
The University of Alabama has two slappers - leadoff hitter Kayla Braud and Jennifer Fenton - at the top of its batting order. Jazlyn Lunceford, who hits lower in the order, is also able to slap, and Ryan Iamurri gives UA coach Patrick Murphy a slap option as a pinch hitter. The keys to the slap are footwork and bat control. The idea is to bounce the ball off the dirt to the left side of the infield so that it either reaches the fielder too late for the batter to be thrown out, or actually bounces over the third baseman's head into short left field. "Slapping is something that's not overpowering. You're not trying to kill it," Braud said. "You're trying to hit it to the right spot. "The goal is to (have the bat swing) on a plane and hit the top of the ball and get a nice hop. You don't want to hit it hard, just nice and smooth. It's an art, really."
The second-ranked Alabama women's golf team continued its impressive play on Wednesday in the second round of the NCAA Championships with a 3-under-par 285 on the par-72, 6,377-yard North Course at the Vanderbilt Legends Club to extend is lead in the team standings. The Crimson Tide stands at 5-under-par 571 halfway through the 72-hole championships with an 11-shot lead over top-ranked UCLA, North Carolina and Virginia (+6, 582). Arizona State and South Carolina are tied for fifth at 7-over 583. "The idea was to stay consistent," Alabama head coach Mic Potter said. "I think we have had only one double bogey in 36 holes, so avoiding big mistakes and taking the birdies where they present themselves is the key.
For Alabama, it’s a big change from entering the 2011 NCAA championship as a favorite only to stumble so much in the first two rounds the Tide trailed eventual national champ UCLA by 20 strokes before rallying to tie for eighth. This year is just the program’s seventh NCAA championship with a team ranked second nationally by both Golfweek and Golf World. Pancake is ranked seventh nationally followed by Meadow at eight and Kirby at nine. Alabama also played in seven AIAW national championships with the program’s best finish a third at the 2010 NCAA championship. “You have to learn by being there to handle expectations,” Potter said. “And going in last year as one of the favorites I think I hate to admit it but for an Alabama program that had never been there, it’s something you have to go through ... We may have needed that at that point. Who knows? But all you can do is just learn from it and get better and go on.”
"The level of athlete playing defense in the SEC is different," said Kingsbury. "Most teams we have faced in the past had to do things to hide their weak spots. They have to disguise some of the things that they do. The defenses I've seen so far don't have any weaknesses."
After taking visits to his finalists the past two months and receiving pitch after pitch from coaches that stopped by during the Evaluation Period, Bateman ended up being sold on Alabama not by the BCS championships but by the upfront nature and offensive style of his future quarterbacks coach. "I can honestly say that Coach Nussmeier was the selling point for me," Bateman said. "That's a person you're going to be with the majority of the time. He was really comforting. "Being on the phone with him, being with him in person, I could see a great relationship starting there."
Asked about the coaches he feels most comfortable with, Tunsil replied, "The two head coaches I have a relationship with are Nick Saban and Will Muschamp. They aren't personally recruiting me, but I can call them up and talk to them. I called coach Saban a couple of weeks ago to talk.
"I'm not as solid as I was before because I think really highly of Alabama, as you can tell. A lot of schools like Ole Miss and USC have been by showing interest. We're hoping to go on the visit to Alabama and then see how it goes."
Losing superb talent to the NFL is a tradition Alabama has adapted to rather quickly, and it helps to replace five-star talent with four- and five-star recruits. Still, replacing safety Mark Barron is a daunting task. In fact, you don’t really replace a player like Barron—who was not only a phenomenal talent but also a leader for that defense—at least not right away. One of the names that is expected to compete for his safety spot and has to be considered the likely favorite for the job after his fantastic spring is sophomore (or soon-to-be sophomore) Vinnie Sunseri. Unlike some of the players he’s battling for the position, Sunseri was not a five-star recruit.
"I remember that night. I always tell the story about it. I just cried. I cried and cried, and I didn't know it, but that night was the night I decided I wanted to do something different, I wanted to be a positive leader -- a positive role model."
Alabama's Duron Carter as Third-Team Wide Receiver Carter, who didn't play last season due to academic concerns and is currently suspended, is ahead of Donte Moncrief, Odell Beckham, Andre Debose and every other wide receiver in the SEC save for the six that are listed ahead of him. Carter—the same guy that has 13 career catches and 176 yards on his career, all of which were in 2009 while with Ohio State—doesn't deserve to be in consideration for this list, much less actually be on it. Just how ridiculous is this? Carter isn't even listed on Alabama's online roster. Take that for what it's worth.
The SEC has already given us the biggest piece of evidence against the eventual superconference: it's really hard to schedule with more than 12 teams, especially when certain members insist on inconveniently maintaining their traditional, out-of-division rivalries. I have no idea how the SEC can add two more schools while both keeping all its rivalries intact and incorporating some sort of Big 12 scheduling arrangement (since that absolutely must happen). But let's say they proceed. We're on Year 3 of Virginia Tech-to-SEC rumors, and VPI's now denied that one at least four times. I think it's in the Bible that denying someone four times means you're leaving the ACC. Also, one of the biggest prizes that nobody talks about remains both squarely in SEC country and in a state the SEC doesn't own yet: North Carolina.
In the video below, Zeigler recounts his conversations with numerous players -- from incoming rookies like Robert Griffin III and Trent Richardson to recently retired veterans like Antonio Pierce and Eddie George -- who all indicated they would welcome an openly gay teammate. "There's a stereotype that football players are homophobic but every time we talk to them they say very gay-positive things," Zeigler said.
The ACC finds itself in a precarious position because Florida State and Miami badly underachieved for a decade, Clemson can't be consistent, and Virginia Tech is the league's flagship program but can't beat elite teams. It's a basketball conference in a football TV world. That's a dangerous combination for long-term football survival these days.
Harper also commented on former Alabama running back Mark Ingram, who was limited by injuries in his rookie season with the Saints. "He's getting healthy. Last year he was a little banged up, but he's moving around a lot better. I was in the training room with him just the other day," Harper said. "He's coming along really well, and I expect big things out of Mark. He's learning to run the ball with a little more patience. He's just so powerful and so anxious, and he wants to be so good."
Ohio State has several pending NCAA violations that could be classified as major or secondary, athletic director Gene Smith told the school's student newspaper. According to the report in The Lantern, Smith said the athletic department has 12 pending NCAA violations in addition to the 46 self-reported secondary violations since May 31, 2011. The 46 secondary violations were released last week. Smith told the newspaper that the pending violations "may turn out to be secondary. It may not." It's unknown if any of the new violations involve the football program, which received a postseason ban for 2012 and scholarship losses for major violations committed by several players and former coach Jim Tressel.
Former Purdue University associate dean Robert P. “Pablo” Malavenda has been spared incarceration for stealing pumpkins, light bulbs, smoke alarms and other household items from a local Walmart last October a petty crime that ultimately cost him his job.