Patrick Murphy went through a few emotions when he saw that Minnesota had been assigned to the Tuscaloosa Regional.
He was surprised to see that the Golden Gophers didn’t get a top-16 seed in the NCAA Softball Tournament, and maybe a little bit shocked to find that they were being sent to play at the regional hosted by the University of Alabama.
It also didn’t escape the notice of the Crimson Tide’s coach that if UA gets past Minnesota, it will likely have to visit No. 1 seed Florida a week later in the super regional round of the national championship tournament.
But Murphy didn’t experience even a moment of self-pity.
“Definitely it’s the toughest road,” Murphy said. “But you know what? We could have won more games. You look back and we had so many games that we could have won and shoulda-coulda, and we didn’t do it.
“We made our own bed, so we’ve got to fight and claw our way out of it. But the best thing is we get to play at home one more week.”
Minnesota, you see, is one of the top teams, with one of the best records, in the country at 54-3. In fact, they were ranked No. 1 in the latest USA Today/NFCA coaches poll, which was released Monday.
So all Alabama has to do to get to the Women’s College World Series, most likely, is beat the No. 1-ranked team and the No. 1 seed in the 64-team national title field.
Said UA player Chandler Dare, “It’s good competition, and at this level if you don’t like the competition then you shouldn’t be here.”
Alabama, 42-16, was awarded the No. 16 overall seed in the tournament, but that reward came with the daunting task of playing in a regional with the Big Ten champions.
Alabama will play Albany on Friday at 4 p.m. at Rhoads Stadium in an opening-round game that will be televised on the SEC Network. The winner will face the winner of the 1:30 p.m. game between Minnesota and Louisiana Tech, which will be televised on ESPNU.
Minnesota not receiving a seed came eight days after the committee that creates the NCAA Tournament bracket ranked them No. 7 in an announcement of the group’s pre-selection top 10. All the Gophers did between then and the announcement of the tournament seedings was win every game on the way to taking the Big Ten Tournament championship.
So controversial was the snub of the Gophers that the committee released a statement on Monday in response to media inquiries.
The committee said its own rankings released a week before weren’t considered, but didn’t explain how a team could be ranked so high and drop so far when being measured by the same criteria.
“The NCAA DI Softball Committee spoke at length over a three-day span about the University of Minnesota’s softball team, noting that many factors were considered regarding team seeding and that the final decision was difficult,” the statement said. “As a part of the selection criteria, the committee reviews each team’s body of work individually when selecting the field of 64 teams for the softball tournament. When selecting the top 16 seeds the committee emphasizes a team’s performance against top 25 teams along with other variables including strength of schedule.”
Minnesota plays in a conference with few softball contenders, and had a relatively weak out-of-conference schedule. The Golden Gophers played just four games against teams ranked in the top 25 of the NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index, winning two of those.
That’s the message Murphy got when looking at how the field was seeded.
“I think it was a real big emphasis on top five, top 10, top 15, top 25 wins,” he said. “If you kind of look them all over, that to me is maybe the simplest explanation. Like (No. 14 seed) Kentucky for example, they had UCLA, (Texas) A&M twice, Florida – and that might have been why they moved ahead of us.”
The daunting bracket didn’t dampen Murphy’s enthusiasm.
“It’s going to be an exciting time,” he said after Sunday’s announcement. “It’s the best time of year. Other than St. Patrick’s Day and Christmas, today is my third-favorite day of the year.
“You’ve got to beat them all sometime. I told the team before, the No. 1 thing is to get in the tournament. We just want a chance, an opportunity, and we got that.”
For Dare, a senior outfielder from Moundville who played at American Christian Academy, playing at home again is what’s most important. Only 16 teams host regionals, and Alabama is one of them.
“I am so excited about it,” she said. “I didn’t get to play the last two games against Auburn (on the final weekend of the regular season) because my arm was a little messed up. Knowing this is my last time at Rhoads Stadium, I can’t be more thankful that we get to host.”
A hidden benefit of having a highly-ranked team like Minnesota in its regional is that Alabama players won’t be looking ahead to a possible matchup with Florida.
“Just taking it one game at a time,” Dare said. “Honestly, Florida’s not even in our mind-set right now. It’s Minnesota, Louisiana Tech and Albany. That’s who’s coming to Tuscaloosa, and we have to take care of business here before we can look ahead to Florida.”
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.