Courtesy of UTsports.com
Alabama utility player Chandler Dare makes a play in the SEC Tournament recently in Knoxville, Tenn.

Alabama softball: Crimson Tide begins toughest road to Women’s College World Series

Welcome to The Rammer Jammer, SEC Country’s daily Alabama athletics recap. Today, we look at the start of the NCAA Tournament for women’s softball.

Alabama may be the top seed and host of the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional, but in coach Patrick Murphy’s mind, the Crimson Tide are the underdog. As the 16th seed in the tournament, Alabama gets the toughest path to the Women’s College World Series in Omaha, Neb., including a possible date with No. 1 overall seed Florida. But before it advances there, Alabama has to win its own regional, and beat three conference champions to do it. From our Chris Walsh, the Tide are relying on their momentum from the SEC Tournament.

Albany is the America East champion, after a 27-16 regular season. The Great Danes hit well, but their pitching is imminently hittable — good news for an Alabama team that struggles at the plate occasionally. They’re the fourth seed in the regional, and by far the underdogs. Think 16 seed from March Madness.

Louisiana Tech is a more difficult test. The Conference USA champion won 34 games this season, largely on the strength of its pitching rotation, which carried a season-long ERA of 2.50. The Bulldogs took a strong Ole Miss team to extra innings in Oxford and could present a difficult matchup with upset potential if Alabama’s bats can’t find a spark.

And then there’s Minnesota, the controversially seeded team that comes to Alabama as the No. 2 seed in the regional despite holding the No. 1 ranking in the USAToday poll and winning the Big 10. Minnesota has lost just three games this season — two to Washington and one to Illinois — and enters the regional on a 25-game winning streak that makes up less than half of its 54 wins. It’s difficult to diagnose a weakness with the Golden Gophers, who hit for average (.349) and power (65 home runs), and strangle the opposition at the plate (1.21 ERA). The only notable stat Alabama holds an edge in is steals, 92 to 42, thanks to Murphy’s penchant for aggressive baserunning.

The regional begins on Friday when Louisiana Tech and Minnesota face off at 1:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU. Alabama and Albany follow on the SEC Network.

ICYMI

Built by Bama

Reggie Ragland has all the tools to succeed in the NFL but hasn’t been able to show it. For the first time in months, he’s returning to practice.

Tim Williams will be the steal of the draft, from our Andrew Astleford.

Around the Capstone

Baseball coach Greg Goff expects the Crimson Tide to be better in 2018. They’d just about have to be.

The women’s golf team plays the opening rounds of the NCAA Championships this weekend. Team members got their first look at the course on Thursday night.

 

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