Alabama Softball Seeks SEC Title

Florida probably doesn't think it's fair. After all, the Gators play in the Sunshine State. But so many raindrops on Florida this season may allow Alabama to capture the Southeastern Conference championship, even though Florida won an early season series against the Crimson Tide.

Alabama is in control of its own destiny as it looks to capture its second regular season SEC title with a series at Mississippi State this weekend. The Crimson Tide leads the SEC with a 20-4 conference record. Florida also has only four losses in conference play, but the Gators have been rained out four times in conference play, while Alabama has been rained out just once. If both teams were to win out this weekend the Tide would finish 23-4 (.852) while the Gators would finish 20-4 (.833), giving Alabama the regular season title and the top seed in the conference tournament.

Not that Alabama is unworthy. The Crimson Tide is 42-9 overall with the nation's best RPI and ranked third in the nation in one poll, fourth in another. Bama will close out regular season play at Mississippi State with a doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m. CDT Saturday and a single game at 1 p.m. Sunday.

Alabama is on an 18-game winning streak. In that streak, the Tide has batted .346 and outscored its opponents 151-41 and slammed 35 home runs. The Tide pitching staff has an earned run average of 1.89 and held opponents to a batting average of .183.

Freshman Kayla Braud leads the charge over the streak with a .464 (26 for 56) average, scoring a team-best 23 runs and swiping 18 bases. Senior Charlotte Morgan has drilled seven home runs, driven in 27 runs while adding a ..356 (16 for 45) average. Amanda Locke has also added seven home runs, 18 RBI and sports a .375 average. In the circle Kelsi Dunne is a perfect 10-0 with a 1.43 ERA. The junior has struck out 91 in 53 2/3 innings and allowed just 28 hits for a .151 batting average against.  

The Alabama softball program enters the weekend one victory away from win number 700. The program also just earned victory number 300 in SEC games as it swept Tennessee to grab the milestone. Alabama Coach Patrick Murphy reached the 650 victory mark.

  Mississippi State enters is 26-26 overall and 7-17 in SEC play. The Bulldogs are coming off a weekend in which they were swept by the Florida Gators in a rain-shortened SEC series. Leading the way offensively for State is All-America Chelsea Bramlett and her .529 average. Bramlett has tallied six triples, scored 54 runs and driven in 22 runs.

Alabama holds a 38-7 advantage against State and has won 16 straight games against the Bulldogs.

The Alabama softball team ranks fifth in the country in home runs per game with 1.73 and third in scoring (7.25). The Tide also checks in at No. 5 in slugging percentage with a .590 mark while ranking ninth in stolen bases per game (2.24). Freshman Kayla Braud ranks fifth in the nation with her .490 batting average and in runs per game (1.18) while Cassie Reilly-Boccia checks in at No. 4 in walks per game (1.04). Senior Charlotte Morgan ranks sixth in RBI per game with 1.22, 15th in walks (0.86) and 19th in home runs (15). Junior pitcher Kelsi Dunne ranks fourth in the country with an 11.7 Ks per seven innings and her 256 strikeouts rank 21st in the country. (As of May 2)

In conference play the Alabama bats have come alive as it ranks atop the league in nine offensive categories including: batting average (.327), slugging percentage (.622), on base percentage (.458), runs (190), RBI (169), home runs (46), walks (132), total bases (379) and stolen bases (48). In the circle Alabama paces the conference in strikeouts (187), batter struck out looking (67) and opposing batting average (.211).

Individually, Kayla Braud ranks second in the league in batting average (.493) and leads the league in runs (32). Senior Charlotte Morgan paces the conference in RBI (33) slugging percentage (.860) and ranks second in walks (26), on base percentage (.568) and home runs (8). Cassie Reilly-Boccia leads the league with 29 walks. In the circle Kelsi Dunne leads the league with 122 strikeouts, 43 looking and also leads the conference with a .170 opponent batting average. 

Over the last two weeks freshman Kayla Braud has paced Alabama at the plate with a .542 (13 for 24) average. The rookie has also swiped seven bags in as many attempts while tying for the team lead with nine runs scored. Whitney Larsen and Amanda Locke have provided the punch with a team-best four homers each. Larsen has hit .474 (9 for 19) over that span, adding 10 RBI. Locke hit .471 (8 for 17), scored nine runs and has driven in nine. Taking full advantage of her playing time, freshman Keima Davis hit .444 (8 for 18) with seven runs scored. In the circle Charlotte Morgan was 2-0 with a 2.47 ERA while Kelsi Dunne was also 2-0, adding a 2.69 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 13 innings. In her two starts she posted a 1.17 ERA.

Braud leada the Crimson Tide offensive attack. Braud enters the weekend with a .490 average and is on pace to break the Alabama single season record. The record is .467 held by All-American Kelly Kretschman, who set the mark as a freshman in 1998. Alabama has only had three players record a single season batting average of .450 or more with a minimum of 135 at bats.  

Alabama sophomore Cassie Reilly-Boccia has set the single season walk record by posting her 53rd free pass against Tennessee. The sophomore passes former teammate Kelley Montalvo, who set the mark of 52 last season. Her 53 walks also leads the SEC and is second all-time in the conference single season annals, trailing only the 62 walks by Tonya Callahan, set in 2008.

This edition of the Crimson Tide is known for the long ball. Bama broke the team record for home runs in a season before the month of April was out. Alabama has 88 home runs, breaking the mark of 79 set in 2007. It is also past the previous SEC record of 86 by Florida last season. Thirteen different members of the team have hit a home run with Charlotte Morgan (15), Amanda Locke (13) and Whitney Larsen (11) all posting double-digits in the long-ball category.

Following the Mississippi State series, Alabama will head to Fayetteville, Ark., for the the SEC Tournament featuring the league's top eight teams. The tournament is May 13-15. 

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