Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy pulled senior Jazlyn Lunceford aside during an at-bat during the third inning of the SEC Softball Tournament. He told her, “Look at the wind, look at the flagpole, where’s it going? It’s going straight out to left field. If you get that outside pitch, be on time and hammer it.”
And Lunceford did just that, cranking a three-run home run off of the scoreboard in left center field that gave the Tide a 6-1 lead over the Florida Gators. Alabama continued to pile on, run-ruling the Gators 10-1 to claim its fifth SEC Tournament Championship and second in three years.
“I thought yesterday was awesome,” Murphy said. “Today was even better and more fun.”
Alabama did it all without the help of its ace pitcher Jackie Traina. Traina, who was named SEC Tournament MVP, was held out of today’s game after pitching in the Tide’s first two games of the SEC Tournament as well as all throwing every pitch in a three-game series against Florida the weekend before.
Senior Amanda Locke got the start in her place, and pitched all five innings, allowing just three hits and one earned run. And her team gave her all the run support she needed.
“Florida takes big hacks, so just trying to of keep the ball low and keep it out of their zone where they like to hit the ball. They’re power hitters, they hit hard. So you’ve just got to keep it low,” Locke said. ”It’s so great to be a pitcher and have the hitting that can put runs up there all the time.”
The win was even sweeter for Alabama, because it came less than a year after the Gators knocked the Tide out of the 2011 College World Series. Alabama had also taken the regular season series from the Gators 2-1 to secure the regular season SEC Championship.
“It is,” Lunceford said when asked if it was nice to get revenge. “And there’s no other group of people that I’d rather get the win with. We have each other’s backs, and I think that’s why we’re so successful.”
Kaila Hunt got things going right away for Alabama, hitting a two-run triple in the first inning that put the Tide up 2-0. In the third, she hit an RBI single before Alabama’s sluggers broke the game open.
Later in the third after Lunceford’s three-run shot, Kendall Dawson sent a two-run blast over the head of the ESPN cameraman in left field that put the Tide up 8-1, and Alabama never looked back.
Hunt completed her monster day with an RBI single in the fourth inning, her third hit and fourth RBI of the day. Cassie Reilly-Boccia added the tenth run later in the fourth with an RBI single of her own. Florida came up short in the top of the fifth, ensuring the run-rule win.
“You’ve got to give credit to the top of the lineup,” Hunt said of her performance. “I don’t really have a good weekend if the top of the lineup doesn’t get on. So I give a lot of credit to Braud and Jen and Locke hitting before me. It’s a team win, for sure. I don’t do well if they don’t do well.”
The win capped one of the most successful seasons in Alabama softball history – it’s just the second time that Alabama has won both the regular season and SEC Tournament titles. But regular season and SEC accolades aren’t the focus for Murphy and his team any more. The focus now shifts to the post-season, where the Tide is still looking for its first College World Series win. Alabama finished tied for third in 2008, 2009 and 2011. And a stunning, walk-off loss to Hawaii in 2010 denied Alabama the chance to even play in Oklahoma City.
And so as the the championship hats were handed out at Rhoads Stadium on Saturday, the Alabama softball team left happy, but not yet satisfied. The Tide is guaranteed a spot in a regional round, which will be held in Tuscaloosa, where the real season begins.
“One thing that really keeps this team strong is the bond that we have,” Locke said. “It’s easy to come out every day and play a game every day and play against the best teams in the country because our team is such a unit. We play together and we play for each other.”