No. 1 Tide Softball Opens Season Friday

When Alabama Softball Coach Patrick Murphy met with the state media earlier this week, he asked how many would be headed to Iowa this weekend for the season-opener. He added, "I heard the temperature was 8 today." No ‘t.' Softball should be played in 80, not 8. To the surprise of no one, Alabama sportswriters won't be making the trip to Cedar Falls, Iowa.

And this isn't just Iowa. It is Northern Iowa.

Except for Alabama, the teams that will be joining host Northern Iowa in the tournament sound like they belong there: Illinois, Drake, and Wisconsin-Green Bay.

But here's the good news. It is the UNI Dome Tournament. Alabama opens tournament play at 3 p.m. CST Friday against Illinois and will play the other three teams in the tournament before coming home to play South Alabama Tuesday.

Once upon a time, Murphy would take his team to Arizona or California to open the season against the big girls of college softball. Now Alabama, 2012 national champion and coming off a 60-8 season, is that big time program.

Bama is 11-5 in opening day games and has won seven of its last season openers. Over that span the Tide has outscored its opponents, 67-5, posting six run-rule wins. Last season the Crimson Tide blitzed Memphis, 8-0, in five innings to open the Mardi Gras Invitational. Jackie Traina struck out seven and only allowed one hit to open up her sophomore season. The last opening day loss for Alabama came in 2010 when it fell to No. 9 Missouri, 2-1.

Alabama will be tested all season long as it enters the 2013 season with a schedule that features six teams that are ranked in the preseason polls and 13 teams that made the postseason in 2012, including two that made trips to the Women's College World Series.

Those tough teams, however, are not in the UNI Dome Tournament. Bama boasts an 11-0 record against the field that will be in Cedar Falls.

Alabama returns two All-America players in Kaila Hunt and Jackie Traina. Traina earned All-America honors for the second straight season as she once again paced the Tide on the mound with a record of 42-3. Traina also batted .319, slugged 10 home runs and put away 361 batters for a 1.87 era. Hunt led the team in power hitting with team high 21 home runs and 77 RBI. Traina's 42 wins led the country while Hunt's 21 homers and 77 RBI paced the Southeastern Conference.

Alabama senior outfielder Kayla Braud, junior infielder Kaila Hunt and junior pitcher Jackie Traina have been selected for the "Watch List" for the 2013 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award by Amateur Softball Association of America. Those three were pre-season All-SEC and the Crimson Tide has been picked to repeat as SEC champion (Bama won both the regular season and tournament titles last year) and national champion.

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