What kind of softball team relishes the chance to go on the road to face the top-seeded team in the NCAA Tournament?
The kind at the University of Alabama.
The Crimson Tide will visit the Florida Gators for the Gainesville Super Regional, a best-of-three showdown that begins Thursday.
And the 14th-ranked Crimson Tide – which had to beat a top-ranked Minnesota team in the Tuscaloosa Regional to earn the opportunity – is excited about making the trip.
“People say we have the hardest road to the Women’s College World Series, but how else would you want to get there?” senior pitcher Sydney Littlejohn said after UA’s victory over the Golden Gophers on Sunday in the regional final. “We beat an amazing Minnesota program two times. Knowing we can do that, that gives us confidence going into Florida and they’re the No. 1-seeded team.
“If we can beat them twice and advance to the World Series, then I’m not going to say it’s an easy road at the World Series but it’s just more of a confidence-booster.”
Alabama (45-16) is on a quest to make it to the World Series in Oklahoma City for the fourth straight season, something UA has never done despite 11 appearances in the eight-team national championship event since 2000.
The Gators (53-7) spent much of the season ranked No. 1 in the polls and won the SEC championship.
UA’s seniors, however, have ventured to Gainesville twice to face top-ranked Florida teams and came away with series wins. Alabama took two out of three at UF last year and did the same two years before.
Maybe that’s why Alabama isn’t backing down from the challenge.
“I’m excited,” senior Marisa Runyon said. “It’s different. Why not take the hard route? If we’re going to make it to the World Series, take the hard route.
“I’d rather do that than say, ‘Oh, they got it easy.’ I know we’re ready to go and we’ll e prepared.”
Alabama knows the Gators are formidable. Each team has one a formidable pitching staff: Florida led by Kelly Barnhill and Delanie Gourley and UA by Alexis Osorio and Littlejohn.
The Crimson Tide got by Minnesota by the slimmest of margins, winning both games 1-0 with one of those victories in extra innings. Looking at the pitching matchups, UA may be in for more of the same.
And that’s fine with the players.
“They say nothing worth having comes easy, so why not go into Florida?” Littlejohn said. “The whole team is excited to be able be able to go in there because we didn’t get to play them this year. I guarantee you we’ll be confident and ready to go.”
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.
Gainesville Super Regional
Who: Alabama at Florida
Where: Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium in Gainesville, Fla.
Schedule: Thursday at 6 p.m. CT, Friday at 6 p.m. CT, Saturday (if necessary) at 4 p.m. CT
Records: Alabama 45-16, Florida 53-7
TV: All games ESPN
Radio: 93.3 FM
SUPER REGIONAL CAPSULES
Nickname: Crimson Tide
National seed: No. 16
Tuscaloosa Regional results: Alabama 5, Albany 1; Alabama 1, Minnesota 0; Alabama 1, Minnesota 0
Head coach: Patrick Murphy
Team batting average: .280
Home runs: 37
Earned run average: 1.51
Top hitters: Demi Turner (.397, 1 HR, 15 RBI), Bailey Hemphill (.322, 9 HR, 41 RBI), Merris Schroder (.306, 4 HR, 24 RBI), Elissa Brown (.295, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 30 SB)
Top pitchers: Alexis Osorio (22-7, 1.22 ERA, 318 SO, 98 BB), Sydney Littlejohn (17-8, 1.28 ERA, 183 SO, 32 BB)
National seed: No. 1
Gainesville Regional results: Florida 9, Florida A&M 0; Florida 2, Oklahoma State 0; Oklahoma State 1, Florida 0; Florida 5, Oklahoma St. 0
Head coach: Tim Walton
Team batting average: .308
Home runs: 46
Earned run average: 0.71
Top hitters: Kayli Kvistad (.389, 7 HR, 47 RBI), Amanda Lorenz (.379, 10 HR, 39 RBI), Nicole DeWitt (.333, 6 HR, 38 RBI)
Top pitchers: Kelly Barnhill (23-2, 0.35 ERA, 310 SO, 30 BB), Delanie Gourley (20-4, 0.71 ERA, 217 SO, 25 BB)
Capsules by Kyle Weber