MURPHY: Saban is Bama's 'Marked Man'

I applaud the Miami Herald for the tone, the judgement and the placement it used in writing and running its Nick Saban recruiting story this week.

When I first heard there were questions being raised about Saban's recruiting in southern Florida, the instant picture that came to my mind was attack journalism of some stripe. You know, as if the media was acting as a proxy for the football fan base in the Miami area. And we all know there's just a wee bit of hostility around the Miami area for the former Dolphins coach Saban.

The piece in the Herald, which apparently was a followup to questions first raised by the Website, did not make any editorial judgements about Saban, nor was it a hit piece, nor a smear story. The newspaper talked to some recruits around Miami who told them about their contact with Saban.

The writer surmised that if what those recruits were saying was true, then Saban's dialogue with them did constitute a minor infraction of NCAA legislation. And, if the NCAA chose to examine the incidents it would likely conclude the violations were secondary and that no significant penalities were likely to be assessed.

The placement of the story in its online version was at the top of a football-related notebook. Therefore we can conclude the Herald did not strip the story across the top of its sports section that day, did not jump into the hyperbole whirlpool and did not commit the journalistic error of sensationalism.

I consider that textbook watchdog journalism.

Alabama football fans might judge that Saban is being picked on here. But those folks are just going to have to realize that he's a marked man in some quarters and under scrutiny in all quarters. This is the price of running in Saban's circles.

That "whoosh" you heard from the East the last couple of days was the Crimson Tide's metal bats failing to register solid contact in two days of whiffing and flailing against Nick Schmidt and Bryan Augenstein.

Yes, those were two excellent pitchers that were ``on'' in their 10 a.m. appearances against the Tide. But when you're aiming for a late-season splash to play your way into the NCAAs, you find a way to scratch out runs against them. That doesn't happen when you're amassing a grand total of 10 hits, three for extra bases, in 18 innings of work.

Alabama looked listless in scoring two runs in those games. And the 10 a.m. start times didn't seem to suit them. Had second baseman Brandon May or pitcher Will Stroup bothered to cover first base in the third inning, the Tide could have turned a 3-6-4 or 3-6-1 double play that would have prevented Florida's third run.

Florida is struggling offensively as well, but the Gators' aggressiveness in the first few innings netted just enough runs to advance. Stroup and Austin Hyatt pitched well enough to get a win, but the hitting betrayed Bama.

By the way, for the record, I thought it was a mistake for Jim Wells to have Matt Bentley bunt Kent Matthes over with no outs in the ninth. Augenstein had just given up a ringing Alex Avila homer and a stinging single through the box by Matthes. Certainly moving Matthes into scoring position had its merits, but it also gave Florida a free out and allowed Augenstein to mentally regroup.

Having Bentley bunt took the bat away from one of Wells' few power hitters and left the run producing to freshmen Del Howell and May, who both struck out swinging.

Alabama's postseason fate is hanging by a thread, but there's still a glimmer of hope, particularly if Florida and Tennessee both get eliminated today.

Whereas we all knew Bama basketball was cooked before the NCAA Selection Show, due to its lackluster finish, the Tide baseballers actually finished strong with series wins over highly regarded South Carolina, Arkansas and Mississippi State in the final month -- before the Hoover Flop.

Alabama has a chance if there are few upsets around the country and if the Tide's SEC resume' is seen to be better than its peers in the league, including Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU and Auburn. If the Tide is seen has having the sixth-best set of credentials in the SEC -- if Florida is ineligible with a losing record -- then it deserves a spot in the field.

I'm calling for an Alabama softball win in its super regional in Seattle against the University of Washington.

The Crimson Tide hitters finally seemed to find their strokes without top hitter Lauren Parker in the lineup in games two through five at the Tuscaloosa Regional last weekend. Parker, it seems, will still be available for only pinch-hitting duties in Seattle, but her teammates got back their groove in pummelling Florida State, California and Tennessee Tech in the regional.

Coach Patrick Murphy has found a gamer in Blair Potter, the left-hander with the A-plus changeup, and it looks like she'll be getting the bulk of the innings in this series. Perhaps the rest afforded to right-hander Chrissy Owens will help her reclaim that lost couple of miles per hour on her fastball, the missing late movement and her confidence.

Alabama also still has a chip on its shoulder after taking that seeding shaft from the selection committee. This is truly a Pac-10 vs. SEC showdown with lots of implications. If Alabama and LSU both win at Pac-10 venues this weekend it should prove once and for all that the committee used some wayward logic in wedging those western teams higher in the seeding than the SEC schools that powered through the regular season with 50-plus wins and high RPIs. If Alabama and LSU don't win, well, the Pac-10 can thump its chest with its homefield wins.

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