TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When it comes to the NCAA Tournament, University of Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy always says that he just wants a chance to be in it.
He got that this year, plus the opportunity to host a regional.
However the Crimson Tide got a bracket placement by the selection committee that was brutal. It could arguably be the toughest in tournament history.
“Definitely it’s the toughest road [we’ve had],” Murphy said. “But you know what, we could have won more games.
“We made our own bed.”
Alabama was seeded 16th, and drew Minnesota, Louisiana Tech and Albany for the regional.
Play begins Friday with Minnesota (54-3) vs. Louisiana Tech (37-22) at 2:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU), before Alabama (42-16) takes on Albany (27-16) at 5 p.m. ET (SEC Network).
The Gophers, who won the Big Ten title on Saturday, were ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in last week’s USA Today/NFCA Coaches and ESPN.com/USA Softball polls, respectively, but weren’t seeded in the tournament — apparently due to strength of schedule.
Minnesota was 2-2 against teams ranked in the top 25 of the latest Rating Percentage Index (RPI) rankings.
“Obviously they’ve had a hell of a year,” said Murphy, who is familiar with Gophers ace Sara Groenewegen (30-2, 0.59 ERA) from coaching Team Canada.
“Three losses? That’s unbelievable.”
The winner of the regional could subsequently face top-seeded Florida in a super-regional. The Gators will be hosting Oklahoma State, FIU and Florida A&M in their regional. OSU was No. 37 in last week’s RPI rankings.
“It’s good competition, and at this level if you don’t like the competition you shouldn’t be here,” said senior outfielder Chandler Dare, who is pleased to be playing at Rhoads Stadium again.
Three teams that finished below Alabama in the SEC regular-season standings, and had a lower RPI ranking — Ole Miss, LSU and Kentucky — had better seedings in the tournament.
“I think there was a real big emphasis on top-five, top-10, top-15, top-25 wins,” Murphy said. “If you kind of look at them all over, that to me is the simplest explanation. Like Kentucky, for example, they had UCLA, [Texas] A&M twice, Florida, and that might be why they moved ahead of us.
“But you have to beat them all sometime.”
Overall, the tournament features 64 teams, of which 32 had automatically qualified for by winning their conference tournaments.
Each four-team regional is double-elimination, with the surviving team advancing to a best-of-three super-regional the following weekend. The winner of that plays in the Women’s College World Series at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium, OGE Energy Field in Oklahoma City, June 1-7.
Alabama has hosted a regional every year since the 2005 season. It’s also won every regional during that time frame, the longest active streak in Division I.
— Alabama Softball (@AlabamaSB) May 15, 2017
The Crimson Tide is 84-39 (.659) all-time in regional play, and extended its streak of receiving an NCAA bid to 19 straight seasons.
Alabama is coming off a semifinal appearance at the SEC Tournament in Knoxville, Tenn., where it defeated Arkansas and Texas A&M before bowing out to eventual champion Ole Miss. The Rebels were seeded eight in the SEC Tournament, but 12th in the NCAA Tournament.
All 13 teams that play softball in the SEC made the tournament field. It’s the first conference to qualify every team since the Pac-12 in 2007, when it had eight teams playing the sport.