Photo: Jeri A Gulsby | UA Athletics
What are your emotions being one win away from the best-of-three final?
We have the most special team I’ve ever been on. Everybody is playing as one, playing for each other. We’re 20 hearts beating as one. There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to take it all. I just believe in this team so much, the players, the coaches and support staff. We have something special.
When Patrick Murphy decided to make a change at the pitching coach position on his staff last summer, the University of Alabama's softball coach had a very specific idea of what he wanted in a candidate. "I think it was important to have somebody that's been there in the big games," Murphy said, "a pitcher that had played Division I softball and was in that pressure-packed situation, gotten to the World Series and played for Team USA. Our sites were set high, for sure." Not many pitching coaches met that description, but Alabama found everything it wanted in one of it's own. Stephanie VanBrakle, a two-time All-American at UA who took the Crimson Tide to the Women's College World Series three times from 2003-06, was head coach at Samford when Murphy called to offer her the job. In one short season, VanBrakle has been a driving force behind Alabama's run to try to capture its first softball national championship, with UA today just one victory away from playing in the three-game national championship series. VanBrakle has been instrumental in the development of ace pitcher Jackie Traina, and in forging Traina's iron will in the pitching circle.
Cal must beat Alabama twice on Sunday to earn a spot in the championship final. First pitch between the Bears and Crimson Tide is set for 2:30 p.m. CT Sunday, following the ASU-Oklahoma game. Should the Sun Devils beat the Sooners in that game, they force the "if necessary" game, which will begin at 6 p.m. If Oklahoma wins the first game, the Sooners eliminate the Sun Devils and the Cal-Bama "if necessary" game will start at 6 p.m.
After managing just six hits and four runs combined in the first two games of the Women's College World Series, it was obvious that the Arizona State offense had yet to show its true identity. And after those two games, a 3-1 defeat of Oregon and a 2-1 loss to Alabama, it was clear that ASU knew it. The Sun Devils were ready to redeem themselves. And they weren't ready to go home just yet. No. 3 ASU finally heated up offensively and staved off elimination for at least one day, defeating LSU 6-0 Saturday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. The Sun Devils (53-10) will now face No. 4 Oklahoma Sunday, and must beat the Sooners twice to advance to the championship series. The first game will be played at 10 a.m. and the second, if necessary, will be at 4 p.m.
Alabama and Texas won their semifinals matches of the NCAA golf championship Saturday at Riviera and will meet Sunday with the title on the line. Alabama's match against California went down to the final group and the 18th hole. Hunter Hamrick was 1 up going into the final hole and made a par to defeat Joel Stalter. "We've played with them the first two days and played with them during the season and knew they were a good golf team," Alabama Coach Jay Seawell said. "They don't have any holes and have five good players. I knew we would have a battle from the first tee to the 18th green and that's exactly what we had."
Until this season, Alabama never was considered royalty in college golf, but on Sunday it could put a king on the throne to join the queen that was crowned recently. Nine days after the Alabama women's team won its first national championship, the men's team will play for its first title. Led by senior Hunter Hamrick, junior Scott Strohmeyer and sophomore Cory Whitsett, the Crimson Tide defeated California in a tight semifinal match Saturday and advanced to the finals. Beginning at noon CDT Sunday in Pacific Palisades, Calif., it will meet Texas, which defeated Oregon in the other semifinal match.
The offensive line could be one of the best in the country, as Alabama returns four of five starters who have combined for nearly 100 starts over their respective careers. At the center of it all is Barrett Jones, last year's Outland Trophy winner at left tackle who is moving to center so highly touted sophomore Cyrus Kouandjio can get in the five-man rotation. Quarterback AJ McCarron, the 2011 BCS Championship Game offensive MVP, only got better as last season progressed. He will have even more of an influence on the Alabama offense.
Talking about a team's potential gets under Nick Saban's skin. Don't even go there. If you do, his 2010 football team will likely pop up on the Saban radar and that's one of those coulda, woulda, shoulda deals that tick him off. "We just never developed the kind of leadership you need to be successful," the Alabama football coach said of 2010. "There was a hangover from the year before" after winning the 2009 national championship. "We got satisfied. I haven't seen that for this team."
"This is my personal opinion, and I may be completely wrong on this ... I don't hear everybody complaining about how the teams get ranked. I haven't heard that. To dismantle the BCS and to go to something completely different with no track record of anything, I don't think is right. I don't think people complain about how the teams get ranked. They just complain there's not enough teams playing, or if there's a third team, the debate becomes which of those teams should be playing rather than the other."
"It's solid, but I'm still looking around," Foster said recently. The Alabama coaching staff told him, " 'You can visit, but at the end of the day, you know where home is.' " There's concern that he could flip. The proximity to Auburn University is a factor. "Coach (Kirby) Smart and Coach (Jeremy) Pruitt have done a good job of recruiting him," Carter said, referring to the Alabama coaches who landed Foster. "They know they're welcomed at Auburn High. They've been here plenty of times before. "Of course, when it comes to the great players, a commitment doesn't mean a lot. Other schools aren't going to stop coming after them."
Pancake, who recently received the Paul W. Bryant Award for being Alabama's top female student-athlete in 2011-12, leaves the Crimson Tide as one of the most decorated female golfers in program history. The three-time All-American and three-time SEC Women's Golf Scholar-Athlete of the Year carried a 4.0 grade point average and graduated in May with a bachelor of science in commerce and business administration.
The day arrived, though, accelerated by a text message from the man who will be Chris’s high school basketball coach, David Boyd. It alerted Mo Lewis to two scholarship offers fielded by Boyd shortly before Chris’s graduation — from middle school. Lewis, in turn, cautioned his son, who turned 14 in January, not to let the affections of college programs lead to an inflated sense of self-importance. "It doesn’t mean anything," Lewis said in an interview at an Amateur Athletic Union tournament where his son played. "It’s very flattering, but you still have to wait. It just means he has the potential now. "It’s like telling a 14-year-old you’re going to get him a car when he turns 17. He still has to learn how to drive, study for the test and pass it." In fact, there is little risk involved for either the athlete or the university, at least in terms of limiting future possibilities. The acceptance of a verbal offer is not binding for either side. Only a letter of intent, signed by a player during his senior year, constitutes a commitment.