The second seed Alabama softball team bounced back in a big way as it downed four seed Oklahoma, 8-6, Tuesday night at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. The win propels the Crimson Tide into its first ever NCAA title game. The victory improves Alabama's record to 59-8 while Oklahoma drops to 54-9. Sophomore pitcher Jackie Traina earned the win, improving to a nation leading 41-3 on the year, and added two hits and three RBI. Traina threw a complete game, giving up the six runs on nine hits while striking out eight batters. Alabama knocked out USA Softball Player of the Year Keilani Ricketts in the fourth inning, dropping her to 37-8 on the season. Ricketts struck out five batters but gave up six runs-just two earned-on three hits.
It's on the wall in the practice facility and in the dugout whenever Alabama plays. It's right there in black and white on the players' wrists, too. FINISH IT. With one game left to decide the NCAA softball championship, the Crimson Tide's season-long mantra has reached its ultimate point. Jackie Traina and Amanda Locke each had three-run doubles and Alabama forced a decisive third game in the Women's College World Series finals by beating Oklahoma 8-6 on Tuesday night. The trophy will be handed out after Game 3 on Wednesday night. "It's the perfect time to finish it right now," Traina said. "Tomorrow's going to be the day."
"I'm just excited," Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said immediately after the game. "I wish we could play right now. Everybody was locked in and ready to go. I couldn't be more proud of a team." To even the best-of-three series, Alabama had to solve the riddle of Sooners ace Keilani Ricketts, the collegiate national player of the year and best left-handed power pitcher in the game, who had struck out 12 Crimson Tide batters the night before. At the same time, UA ace Jackie Traina had to bounce back from being pelted for 11 hits in the series opener just 24 hours before. The Crimson Tide accomplished both goals, although Traina tired late in a 146-pitch victory.
Keilani Ricketts was upset. As Oklahoma’s All-American pitcher came off the mound in the fourth inning, she was visibly angry. Ricketts had just given up her fifth run to Alabama and coach Patty Gasso had seen enough. She pulled her star to save her for another day as the Sooners were knocked around 8-6 by the Crimson Tide on Tuesday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. Ricketts gets a chance for redemption at 7 p.m. today when Oklahoma (54-9) and Alabama (59-8) will find out who is the best team in the nation in a deciding Game 3 of the Women’s College World Series. After her performance in Game 2, her teammates are looking forward to getting Ricketts back on the field. "I have a shot tomorrow to just lay it out there," Ricketts said. "Just give my team the momentum I needed to give them tonight."
Indomitable all postseason coming in, Ricketts spent more than an hour self-inflicting pain with five hit batters. Her scattershot pitching combined with sloppy defense and one big swing from Traina to end her night one out into the top of the fourth inning. It had to be stunning for the Sooners to see Ricketts give way to Michelle Gascoigne. If for some reason that didn't shock them, Amanda Locke's three-run double against Gascoigne did. The 5-1 deficit Ricketts left was now 8-1, and everybody in ASA Hall of Fame Stadium started thinking about game three. "I wanted to get her out and rested," OU coach Patty Gasso said of the pitching change, "and to get her mind right."
Oklahoma mounted a serious threat in the bottom of the seventh. Destinee Martinez tripled and scored on Lauren Chamberlain's single, Ricketts singled and Shults homered to cut UA's lead to 8-5. Brianna Turang followed with a triple and scored on Erica Sampson's grounder before Traina ended the rally by striking out Henson. "One of the greatest things in this tournament was what we did in the seventh inning," Sooners coach Patty Gasso said. "The message we sent and confidence we brought made me proud of my team. We're going to make adjustments and work our rear ends off for a national championship."
In the top of the first inning, though, Alabama didn't act intimidated by Ricketts. Instead, UA loaded the bases - but failed to score. Oklahoma then scratched a run across against Traina in the bottom of the inning, and the entire season rested on the Crimson Tide's psychological reaction to that inning. But Alabama didn't crumble. Instead, it got angry. Alabama put Ricketts on the ropes. Yes, some shaky Oklahoma defense helped, but one key to that was that Alabama put the ball in play instead of striking out. And when the chance to land a haymaker came, Traina delivered it with all five knuckles, clearing the loaded bases and completing reversing the mood in the stadium, and on both benches. Alabama posted four runs in the second inning, added four more in the fourth, chased Ricketts from the game and had momentum squarely in its corner. It didn't swing back in Oklahoma's favor until a five-run seventh inning caused a little nervousness and a lot of speculation abut who carries the momentum into tonight's contest. Forcing a final game is a far cry from winning a championship. Ricketts could right herself and be as imposing as she was on Monday. A million things could happens, a million mini-dramas will play out, and Alabama will either fall short once again - or finally reach the mountaintop.
When last season’s Women’s College World Series was coming to an end, Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy was preparing to leave Tuscaloosa for Baton Rouge. Now, nearly a year removed from his job change, which lasted only a weekend, Murphy has the Crimson Tide softball team on the cusp of winning its first national championship with game three of the championship against Oklahoma scheduled for tonight. The motto for this year’s team has been "Finish it," and Murphy and the players wear wristbands that display the saying. "It’s something that the seniors, the girls came up with maybe at the beginning of the semester," Murphy said. "When we leave our hitting facility, they’ve got a sign, and there’s basically a handprint. And it says ‘finish it’. Everybody slaps that handprint as they walk out into the field every day.
Alabama's approach against Ricketts was to put balls in play - which led to two crucial Oklahoma errors - and take her deeper into counts. Top-of-the-order hitters Kayla Braud and Jennifer Fenton went a combined 1-for-9, but fouled off a lot of pitches and set the tone for longer at-bats to test Ricketts' concentration. The difference showed in the top of the first, where Alabama loaded the bases with two outs on a hit batter, a single and a walk. Even though UA didn't capitalize, it established that it could get something going against Ricketts. "We just wanted to get the momentum going our way," Fenton said. "Even though Kayla Braud and I didn't get on (often), we saw a lot of pitches and we were able to fight. You could just tell on our face that we're not going to go down easy."
There were whispers in high school. And Kayla Braud heard them. All the while making headlines for Class 4A Marist of Eugene — pounding out hit after hit, a national record of 103 straight games with a hit, in fact — Braud heard the whispers of simply being a big fish in a little pond. But she never cared. "It kind of showed that the hard work I had done my entire career paid off," said Braud, now playing for the Alabama softball team, which is one game away from winning the Women's College World Series. "We didn't play in the highest league or face the best pitching but I think ... it was a testament to my coaches growing up and the people who helped support me because I did feel like when I came to college I did show up prepared."
Softball has a chance to become the third women’s sport to win a championship tomorrow night when it squares off with Oklahoma for game three of the Women’s College World Series. Patterson, whose daughter is a UA softball player, said she remembers when the team played at a local park in its early days. And seeing softball cap off the most successful year in women’s sports history would mean everything to Patterson, who has seen this side of sports grow since she arrived almost 35 years ago. "If I could give up one of my six [championships] so that they could have one, I would do it in a heartbeat," Patterson said. "Building rich tradition and winning programs, that’s what we represent at the University of Alabama."
Former Alabama star Taylor Dugas' dream came true Tuesday when he was selected by the New York Yankees in the eighth round of Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft. "How about that, huh?" he said by phone from his hometown of Lafayette, La. " It's crazy that it all happened that way." Dugas also was taken in the eighth round of the 2011 draft. The Chicago Cubs made him the 249th player drafted, but Dugas turned down a $300,000 offer and returned to Alabama for his senior season. He went on to break multiple hitting records.
Alabama senior Brooke Pancake has won the 2012 Honda Sports Award in golf, given annually to the nation's top female collegiate golfer. The Honda Sports Award is awarded to the top women athletes in 12 NCAA-sanctioned sports who are then automatically eligibility to become a "Top Three" finalist for the Collegiate Woman Athlete of the Year. Pancake was voted over three other nominees for the 2012 award. "I am ecstatic about the Honda Award," Pancake said. "I honestly couldn't ask for a better way to cap off my collegiate career."
As we wind our way through another summer filled with conference realignment drama -- or at least the threat of it (thanks Florida State) -- it's important to keep in mind that packing up and moving is not all about football. It mostly is, of course, but there are other factors that go into decisions like Texas A&M going to the SEC and Utah to the Pac-12. One thing you hear all the time during these conversations is that, "it's about the academics." It's not -- it's about money -- but there's some truth behind every university president citing it during introductory press conferences. To that end, two doctoral students at Georgia decided to find out if there's any truth that changing conference could lead to academic gains.
Among those receiving offers from the Tide already this week was South Carolina wide receiver Mike Williams, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound star who already holds offers from home-state South Carolina and Clemson along with Florida and Georgia. Williams, a consensus four-star prospect, reportedly impressed the Crimson Tide with his speed and size. "Alabama's very words were, 'We thought he was slow, but dang coach, he is fast,'" said Williams' high school coach Chris Carter in an interview with 247Sports.
The SEC, which has won an unprecedented six consecutive BCS national titles, will set another record this year: most bowl tie-ins. The SEC will add the Independence Bowl as an SEC bowl for the 2012 and 2013 seasons, sources told CBSSports.com. The Independence Bowl opening became available when the Mountain West opted to take an available opening in the Armed Forces Bowl, which previously had a tie in with BYU. The Cougars, who were contracted to the Armed Forces Bowl in 2011, have an agreement with the Poinsettia Bowl in 2012 and the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in 2013.
In Alabama's case, they have indeed been very lucky. We don't talk about Texas A&M's 20-year run from 1960 to 1980 because in real life Bear Bryant left College Station to return to Alabama and took his once-in-a-generation coaching talent with it. Going back even further, we do not talk about Arkansas' amazing dominance in the 1940s under a young Bryant because Pearl Harbor happened, and the actual Bryant turned down the Razorbacks' offer to coach their football team to join the Navy instead. You owe Emperor Hirohito, Crimson Tide fans. You owe him big-time.* *A fun historical side note: the University of Maryland's President pissed off Bryant by meddling in football affairs, and Bryant left without regrets. This is just to point out that like big programs' successes, Maryland's ability to screw things up in football is a skill they developed over time and not without some effort.
Quite simply, Alabama is going to be good again. They must overcome solid losses at linebacker and in the secondary, and we'll see if they can maneuver through a tough schedule without tripping up (it isn't out of the realm of possibility that they field a team a lot like the 2010 squad, which was mostly great but suffered just enough breakdowns to knock them out of national title contention), but they are going to be pretty easily projected No. 1 in our preseason Football Outsiders projections, and it's pretty easy to see why: they were No. 1 last year, they are No. 1 over the last five years, and they are No. 1 in recruiting. Of course the numbers are going to like them.
If everything's working correctly, Michael has everything he needs to hold up as an every-down SEC bruiser, including the veteran offensive line; aside from South Carolina All-American Marcus Lattimore (also coming off a major knee injury), there is no obviously better back in the conference. But there's nothing obvious about Michael's role in the revamped offense or a potentially crowded backfield, either. Suddenly the Aggies may not have much use for a between-the-tackles bull, or may be perfectly content to spread the workload if they do. Which is all to say that the opportunities he does get to shine will largely be the ones he creates for himself. Based on what we've seen of Michael at full speed, that should mean a full-time role, his first 1,000-yard season, a little postseason decoration and a strong bid to go in the first two rounds of the draft. Anything short of that may be understandable, given the circumstances, but it will still be disappointing given the potential.