Will the real underdog at the Tuscaloosa Regional please stand up?
The Minnesota softball team, shafted by the committee that seeds the NCAA Tournament, is ranked No. 1 in the coaches poll but talks about its underdog attitude. Louisiana Tech and Albany are overlooked and expected by the experts to be easy marks for Minnesota and the host Alabama Crimson Tide, respectively.
And even Alabama considers itself to be a dark horse at the double-elimination event that begins today at Rhoads Stadium.
“We’ve never had the No. 1 team in the country at the regional as the two seed,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. “I think that just adds a lot more spice to it.
“They’re all champions. We’re kind of the underdog. You know, I’d rather be that way to tell you the truth.”
Minnesota won the Big Ten regular-season and tournament championships. Louisiana Tech won the Conference USA tournament title. Albany earned its bid by winning the America East tournament.
UA is the No. 16 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Alabama finished fifth in the SEC in the regular season and played its way to the semifinal round of the league tournament.
Murphy doesn’t doubt his team’s credentials.
“I think this team put in the work and deserved the opportunity to host again,” Murphy said. “It was hell of a conference schedule and just a gauntlet every weekend. … We beat everybody that we should have beat, didn’t have one bad loss on the season.”
Alabama enters with a 42-16 record that includes 14 games decided by one run. The Crimson Tide has won half of those, and figures its tough SEC slate is a factor in its favor.
“We’ve learned to love the challenge and even if we fail, we learn from that failure,” senior Marisa Runyon said. “I think that that struggle is going to set us up for a good weekend.”
All the seeds, all the controversy over Minnesota’s snub, end with Friday’s first pitch.
Murphy remembers before the 1999 season, his first as head coach, when he invited former UA football player Jeremiah Castille to speak to the squad.
“Is there a championship for this sport?” Castille asked.
Murphy explained that there was a World Series in softball.
“Well, I don’t need to say a word,” Castille told him. “There’s a championship to be played for.”
That’s all that matters now.
Alabama made the NCAA Tournament that year for the first time. It has been back every year since, and is hosting a regional for the 13th year in a row.
“Ever since then, that’s been the goal,” Murphy said. “There’s a championship to be won. That’s what we’re playing for.”
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.