Patrick Murphy tried to spell it out for the Alabama softball team.
The coach of the Crimson Tide took to an eraser board to illustrate where Alabama sits in the SEC league standings and how it is situated in the race to earn a 14th straight bid to host an NCAA regional.
The 17th-ranked Crimson Tide is ninth in the SEC with a 7-8 record going into its series with No. 7 Tennessee, which is tied for fourth in the league with an 8-7 record. Just one more win at Arkansas last weekend, where UA lost two out of three, and Alabama would be joined with the Lady Volunteers in a four-way tie for fourth place.
No. 7 Tennessee at No. 17 Alabama
Where: Rhoads Stadium
Schedule: Saturday at 4:30 p.m. and TBD (after first game), Monday at 6 p.m.
Records: Alabama 27-13, 7-3 SEC; Tennessee 38-8, 8-7 SEC
TV: SEC Network (Monday)
Radio: 93.3 FM
In the bigger picture, Alabama is rated No. 16 in the official NCAA Ratings Percentage Index rankings, a key component used by the committee that picks the top 16 seeds that will host regionals in the NCAA Tournament.
Alabama wants to be one of those teams. Whether it will join that select field will depend largely on how it does in its final three SEC series to close out the regular season: at home against Tennessee (ninth in the RPI), at Georgia (No. 8) and at home again vs. Texas A&M (12th).
Alabama’s spot at No. 16 isn’t secure enough to guarantee holding onto a host spot in the postseason.
“Right below us is the team (Arkansas) that just best us two out of three,” Murphy points out. “That should give you enough motivation right there to do well this weekend, going over to Georgia and having A&M here. It’s a huge advantage to play at home now in the SEC.”
Murphy wanted to make sure his team understands its position.
“You never know,” he said. “With all the information that’s out there, you don’t know.”
The season rides on how Alabama closes out its schedule.
“The last nine (games) are huge, especially the ones at home,” Alabama’s coach said. “They’re all above us in RPI. Instead of thinking, ‘Man we’ve got a tough schedule at the end,’ we need to be thinking, ‘Thank God we have a tough schedule to end the year,’ because it’s an opportunity for us to move up.
“To have six of those at home is an even bigger bonus.”
Tennessee is perplexing. The Lady Vols are a top-10 team riding a five-game winning streak that includes a sweep of LSU last weekend. After sweeping Missouri to kick off its SEC slate, Tennessee lost five of its next six in conference.
“They played great against LSU,” Murphy said. “They look like they’re back on track for sure.
“After they came back from (a tournament in) Hawaii – and I know that’s a tough trip to come back from – that was the weekend of South Carolina and I think it was a little bit of a hangover from that.
“Now they look pretty healthy and are hitting the ball and pitching and all that.”
Murphy believes his team is capable of winning enough of its last nine regular-season games to make a case that it should keep its streak of hosting in the postseason alive. But he also wanted his team to understand what’s at stake.
“Anybody can beat anybody in the league,” he said. “That’s true for sure. If you don’t come ready to play you’re going to get beat. It doesn’t matter who.
“I just thought it might help to motivate a little bit for them to know.”
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.