Tide Softball Tries To Bounce Back

Southeastern Conference softball is barely underway, and already Alabama has its back to the wall. Last week the Crimson Tide lost three games in a row to SEC competition, although only two of those losses counted, and this week Bama is on the road at South Carolina, where the Gamecocks open their league season.

Alabama went into last week ranked number one in the nation in one poll and number two in the other. After losing a non-counting game to Florida in Tuscaloosa, and then losing two out of three on the road at Tennessee, it could be said that the Tide is fortunate to have fallen no farther than it did in the polls. Bama is now number four in the nation in the USA Today rankings, and sixth in the ESPN poll with its 22-3 record (including 1-2 in SEC play). Oklahoma is unanimous number one in both polls.

South Carolina is 16-6 this season.

The three-game series begins Friday with first pitch at 6 p.m. CDT (7 eastern). The Saturday game is at 11a.m. CDT (noon eastern) with CSS providing spotty regional television coverage. The series concludes Sunday at Beckham Field in Columbia.

After winning the first 22 games of the season, Alabama lost last week to Florida (4-8) in Tuscaloosa, and in Knoxville lost the Friday and Saturday games each by a run before rebounding with a 7-1 victory on Sunday.

In the NCAA weekly rankings the Crimson Tide comes in third in stolen bases per game with 72 steals in 26 games. In the circle the Tide is ninth in the NCAA for ERA with a 1.40 clip. Haylie McCleney ranks second in the nation in batting average with a .512 mark as well as ninth in runs per game with 1.31. McCleney is ranked first in toughest to strike out having yet to be returned to the dugout. Kayla Braud is ninth in stolen bases with .85 per game.

Alabama's .330 batting average ranks fourth in the SEC, with its 188 runs ranked second. The Tide is first in the SEC steals category reaching 72-of-75 times. Alabama is also first in hits with 226. The Tide's pitching staff has recorded the fourth lowest SEC ERA with a 1.40 mark. Alabama is third in strikeouts with 192. (As of March 12)

Freshman Haylie McCleney is first in SEC batting average with .512, first in hits with 42, and first in runs scored with 34. The freshman is also tied for first in total bases with 64, and is fifth in stolen bases going 19-19. Junior Kaila Hunt is fourth on the list for RBI with 30 and second in doubles with nine. Kayla Braud is third in stolen bases with 22-for-23. After the fifth week, junior Jackie Traina fourth in the SEC in batters struck out with 107. (As of March 12)

Alabama freshman outfielder Andrea Hawkins batted .600 (6-for-10) in her three starts against Tennessee. The rookie tallied two hits in all three games. Her hits came at crucial times for the Tide as she led the team with four RBI. The Bay City, Texas native had at least one RBI in all three games, tallying two in the opener and one in each of the final two contests.

South Carolina is batting .358 with 24 home runs and 49 stolen bases. SC has outscored its opponents, 198-76. In the circle, the Gamecocks sport a 3.02 ERA and have struck out 97 in 136 2/3 innings. Samie Garcia paces SC with a .467 average, adding a home run and 14 stolen bases. Chelsea Hawkins has provided the punch with five home runs and 20 RBI while adding a .384 average. In the circle, Audrey Broyles leads the team with a 2.75 ERA and a 5-2 record. She has struck out 27 in 40 2/3 innings.

In 48 meetings in the series, Alabama is leading, 32-16. In the 2012 series the Tide swept South Carolina with the last game ending in a 19-4 decision for Alabama. In the first inning Amanda Locke set the tone with a grand slam, the first in her career, followed immediately by two solo home runs from Jackie Traina and Danae Hays. Alabama scored nine more runs in the second inning and the final three in the bottom of the fourth inning with a total of 11 hits and 18 RBI. UA outscored SC, 35-10, hit .362, smashed eight home runs and pitched at a 3.29 clip.

Alabama Coach Patrick Murphy is closing in on 800 wins for his career. Murphy enters the weekend with a 795-221 record in 16 seasons, 15 while at the helm of the Crimson Tide. At Alabama, Murphy has accumulated a 767-201 record. He spent one season at Northwest Missouri State, where he went 28-20 in his first head coaching assignment.

Alabama heads to Columbia with a 158-73 record all-time on the road during conference play. The Crimson Tide has never had a losing season on the road on the league circuit, with its worst record coming in 1999, when they finished 8-8. UA has tallied 10 or more wins on the road, nine times, finished with a program best 13 wins, three times.

After the trip to South Carolina, Alabama will return home for the next week to play a single game against non-conference opponent Georgia State on March 20, before taking on SEC rival Auburn March 22-24.

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