The Alabama softball team of Coach Patrick Murphy is into the NCAA Tournament for the 19th straight season, and for the 13th consecutive year the Crimson Tide earned a top-16 national seed and will host an NCAA Regional at Rhoads Stadium beginning Friday.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that Alabama will have to play at the very top of its game to advance to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City this year.
Alabama has had an uncharacteristically tough season, most recently being eliminated from the Southeastern Conference Tournament by Ole Miss. The Tide is 42-16 overall and was fifth in the SEC in regular season play.
Bama will host three conference champions, including nationally fourth-ranked Minnesota winner of the Big Ten, in Tuscaloosa. Also participating this weekend are Louisiana Tech and Albany.
Bama has been a top-16 national seed 15 times. The Tide is 84-39 (.659) all-time in NCAA Regional play and has won every regional round since 2005, the longest active streak in Division-I softball. Alabama has not lost a game in regional play since 2007, a streak of 31-consecutive games.
The Tuscaloosa Regional will begin on Friday when Minnesota faces Louisiana Tech at 1:30 p.m. CDT before Alabama takes on Albany at 4 p.m. The SEC Network will televise the Tide game.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers (54-3) earned the Big 10’s automatic bid after winning their second-straight tournament title. Minnesota was the league’s regular-season champion as well, finishing conference play with a 21-1 Big 10 record. Senior pitcher Sara Groenewegen is a top 10 finalist for USA Softball Player of the Year and has a 30-2 record with a 0.59 ERA and 280 strikeouts over 190.0 innings pitched. Minnesota was ranked No. 4 in both national polls heading into last weekend. Alabama has only faced Minnesota once in program history, a 2-0 Crimson Tide win on Feb. 10, 2000 at the Metrodome Classic in Minneapolis.
Louisiana Tech (34-22) won the automatic bid for Conference USA, the program’s first league title since 2008 and 10th overall. Six players were named to the all-conference team, including Newcomer of the Year Krystal De La Cruz, a sophomore pitcher who leads the team with a 2.00 ERA over 105.0 innings pitched. Alabama has won all four of its meetings against Louisiana Tech, last facing off in a doubleheader on March 27, 2007.
Albany (27-16) won its sixth America East title this weekend, its second in the last four seasons. Senior utility player Elizabeth Snow was name the league’s Player of the Year, leading the team with a .439 batting average and 50 hits, including 13 home runs and 46 RBIs. Alabama has met Albany four times in program history, winning all four. The last meeting came on Feb. 14, 2004, a 12-0 win for the Crimson Tide.
If Alabama can get out of its own regional, the Tide will face the winner of the Gainesville Regional, hosted by top-seeded Florida. Other teams playing in Gainesville include Oklahoma State, Florida International, and Florida A&M.