About this time last year Caroline Hardy was on a plane heading back to Tuscaloosa from Seattle, where she and the Alabama softball team had been swept by Washington in a super regional.
No more postseason. No Women’s College World Series.
On Wednesday Hardy and her Crimson Tide teammates boarded a plane at Tuscaloosa National Airport, this time bound for the WCWS in Oklahoma City.
“I love our senior class so much and we have worked so hard for this,” Hardy said of going to the WCWS. “Ever since our freshman year when our seniors took us to the World Series, we said we want to be the senior class that takes the team to the World Series. I can remember Reagan (Dykes) and I talking about on our flight back from Seattle last year about this right here — getting on this plane and going to the World Series.”
Alabama (57-8) takes on top-seed Oklahoma (54-3) on Thursday at 8:30 p.m., which will be televised by ESPN2. The Crimson Tide will play in its 12th WCWS, but its first since 2016.
“One of the goals of mine is to have a class go every World Series and the last class that could have done it was (2017) and we didn’t get it done,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. “You have to go to the first one to get to the second one and the third and fourth. I’m happy for the freshman and it’s a thrill for everyone in the program. It’s the coolest thing ever.”
The thrill and excitement of going to the WCWS will start to fade by Thursday and a more business-like attitude kicks in, Hardy said. The utility player said she and her fellow seniors (Dykes, Merris Schroder and Courtney Gettins) will make sure the Crimson Tide is focused on the task when it’s game time.
“The other day I said in the (team) huddle that the sooner we get the chance to practice on the field on Wednesday and get acclimatized to the environment, then in the game you can have more of that feeling of ‘OK I’m supposed to be here, we have earned this spot, this is where we are supposed to be,'” Hardy said.
“And then Reagan said the more you focus on each other and invest in your teammates with what you can do to help, then the environment becomes secondary.”
The Sooners are making their 13th WCWS appearance with national titles in 2000, 2013, 2016 and 2017. Entering the super regionals, this year’s Oklahoma squad was ranked No. 1 in the country in batting average (.359), home runs per game (1.87), on-base percentage (.449), slugging percentage (.661), ERA (1.10), fielding percentage (.98), shutouts (26), and win-loss percentage (.945)
“They are very athletic, fast, and have a deep pitching staff,” Murphy said. “They have some more power than us. Their fielding is terrific. I can go on and on. It’s like facing the Yankees.
“We are just going to have to move the ball around and make them move a little bit and use our speed to our advantage and be smart about our pitching decisions.”