Softball tabbed to win the West

The SEC has announced that The University of Alabama softball team has been voted by conference coaches to claim the SEC West Division championship and finish runner-up to the Georgia Bulldogs for the overall SEC Championship.

The Crimson Tide (No. 6 6 USA Today) garnered 10 of 11 first place votes in the West division to pick up 60 points, while the LSU Tigers collected the final remaining first place vote and 50 points to finish as runner-up to Alabama.

Georgia collected 10 first-place votes in the SEC East to pick up 50 points while the Tennessee Lady Vols collected the only other first place vote and were tabbed to finish second in the East division with 35 points.

The Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs were the lone vote getters for the SEC Championship with nine coaches picking Georgia, while Alabama received two votes.

The Crimson Tide opens its season this weekend when the Tide heads west to the Stanford Spring Classic. Bama will open the season and tournament against the host team Stanford Cardinal (No. 12 15 USA Today).

SEC Western Division

1. Alabama (10)       60
2. LSU (1)            50
3. Mississippi State  39
4. Auburn             35
5. Ole Miss           22
6. Arkansas           19

SEC Eastern Division

1. Georgia (10)       50
2. Tennessee (1)      35
2. Florida            35
4. South Carolina     26
5. Kentucky           14

Alabama made it to the College World Series last season, and with most of its key players back hopes to make a second consecutive trip.

Head Coach Pat Murphy talked about the goal. "This year, this senior class really hasn't really talked about it all. Now it's ‘getting to the next level, getting to the championship game, or being a national champion.' I don't know if it's more level headed or more grounded, just seems like it's been an easier group to kind of control the ego with."

Unlike baseball, where a minimum of three solid starting pitchers is necessary for tournament success, often a softball squad can get by on one star hurler. But like last year, the Tide will have three names to choose from.

"We have a senior back, Erin Wright, a junior, Jennifer Wright, and a sophomore, Stephanie VanBrakle," Murphy said. "Last year, I never ever would have thought it would have happened. We have three pitchers and it was like 21 starts, 20 starts and 19 starts and that just doesn't happen in softball. It was like a three game rotation in SEC baseball, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Every game it seemed the match-ups were good with whoever was there and we were one game out of the SEC championship so it worked for the most part.

"I'm not sure what the situation will be like this year."

Slowly but surely Alabama softball is breaking the stranglehold traditionally held by West Coast teams on the rankings. Pre-season Bama is sixth nationally.

"To be ranked No. 6 is still amazing to me," Murphy said. "For an Alabama, for a southern team to be ranked that highly, is still amazing because the respect still isn't there. I think our girls kind of feed off of that because they know it. My expectations are to go higher."

How high?

"As long as there is a championship to be played, why not shoot for it," Murphy replied. "That's the reason I think we are playing because there is a championship in division one softball. That's number one on the goal sheet."

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