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Game 2 is at 7 p.m., ESPN2
Oklahoma won Game 1, 4-1.
Christopher Walsh covers Alabama football for BamaOnline, 247Sports, and is the author of 18 books.
Story on NCAA.com
OKLAHOMA CITY – There is no I in T-E-A-M. But there is an I in “Finish It,” the Alabama Crimson Tide’s theme since the 2012 softball campaign began.
Coming off a disappointing finish to the 2011 season, a season that ended with Alabama dropping back-to-back games on a Sunday afternoon at the 2011 Women’s College World Series, the program focused on getting back to Oklahoma City, this time finding a way to finish the season by hoisting the national championship trophy.
This time around the Crimson Tide did not fool around on Sunday, beating California and All-American Jolene Henderson, 5-2, to advance to the best-of-three championship series against Oklahoma.
But on Monday night in the opening game with the Oklahoma Sooners, head coach Patrick Murphy’s squad came up on the short end of 4-1 contest. Only once during the 2012 campaign has the Crimson Tide dropped consecutive games – April 17 to Georgia State and April 19 to Georgia. If it happens a second time, the season will be over for a group of 22 teammates who have developed a special bond.
It didn’t take long on Monday night before everyone was rallying around each other.
Senior Kendall Dawson, hitting just .238, knocked in Alabama’s lone run.
“[After the game] Olivia [Gibson] said, “Right now is when we need to be our teammates’ best friends and pick each other up,’” said Dawson. “We could go back to the hotel and sulk about it. But instead our team’s got to have our backs and we need to knock it off right now, and get back with it [Tuesday]. We’re still going to fight even though it didn’t come out our way [Monday].”
Gibson, a senior from Tuscaloosa, has just 21 at-bats this season. She is part of something around Alabama softball known as “The Wolfpack.”
“It starts at the top,” said sophomore Ryan Iamurra, who has just 32 at-bats in 2012 and who Murphy calls his “fifth assistant coach.”
“It doesn’t matter if you play or you don’t play, Coach [Murphy] treats everyone the same. It also comes from the starters because they know we want to play; everybody at this level is a good player and wants to be a part of it. Those who don’t play we call “The Wolfpack.” We, as a group, always have each other’s back. We have a job to do and it’s important for everybody to feel like they are a part of this team. We really are all equal, all compete as one; it’s, by far, the greatest team I’ve ever played on.”
Murphy has added softball to the Crimson Tide athletic juggernaut. When he arrived there were a handful of fans – with a few dogs in tow – and little excitement. The environment has changed significantly and it’s been the head coach’s mission to make sure every roster member is involved, from All-Americans to role players.
“Olivia Gibson, if you knew her, we have a thing that we call intangibles,” said Murphy after Sunday night’s victory. “What are you going to bring to the table? And I have – they think for about two weeks what they’re going to bring to the table as a team and as a teammate. And then about two weeks later, I say: ‘OK, what’s the intangible going to be?’ And her intangible every year is: I’m going to bring love and joy to the team. Not hits, not strikeouts, not great plays, but she’s going to bring love and joy to the team.
And that’s what she brings. She’s an incredible kid. She always puts the team above herself. Very, very self‑less, and that’s the reason, when you have 20 young ladies on the team – and that’s our largest roster ever – the kids that don’t play are usually the ones that bring you down, not the starters, because they’re happy, they get to play. The kids that don’t play are the ones that kind of bring you down. And it shows up in the postseason.
“If there’s some unhappy campers on your team, it’s going to show up in a hurry. And this is one of the most together teams, chemistry‑wise, we’ve ever had. And it all starts with the seniors; because they know their role and they shut their hole.”
Five seniors started Monday for Alabama. They went a combined 3-for-13 with outfielder Jennifer Fenton going 2-for-4 against one of the nation’s best in Keilani Ricketts.
Alabama sophomore Jackie Traina has not been perfect in Oklahoma City this week, but she’s been as good as anyone who has taken the circle. She entered Monday as UA’s only hurler, working 21 innings, allowing 10 hits, walking 14 and striking out 25. She was tagged for 11 hits by the hot-hitting Sooners, but worked out of jam after jam – OU stranded 12 base-runners in the seven-inning contest.
“I’ve been around Jackie [Traina] for a long time, more than most,” said Iamurri. “And I guarantee you she will come back [Tuesday] and do whatever she can to help this team win. There is no doubt in my mind that this team isn’t going to quit. We came here to win a national championship.”
Perhaps the key for Alabama is “we.” It will take a complete team effort to get it done Tuesday, and a repeat effort on Wednesday for Alabama to bring the Southeastern Conference its first national championship in softball.
good stuff. So will the J-train start again tonight? I know that the motion of throwing a softball is more "natural" but my gosh, 150 pitches has to take some kind of toll. And if she didn't start, who does? Locke?
ROLL LADY TIDE ROLL
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