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May 13, 2012

Alabama to host Regional

TUSCALOOSA | The NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional will be a tournament of champions this weekend at Rhoads Stadium.

The University of Alabama softball team, which drew the No. 2 overall seed Sunday night, will host Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champion Georgia Tech, Sun Belt tourney champion South Alabama and Tennessee-Martin, which won the Ohio Valley Conference regular-season and tournament crowns.

The Crimson Tide won the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament championships.

"To have the only region among the 16 to have all four teams getting automatic bids because they won their conference says a lot about the quality of the four teams in this region," Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said.

Alabama (50-7) played 39 games against teams in the NCAA Tournament, winning 34. UA has faced 17 teams in the 64-team field. Two games were against teams placed in the Tuscaloosa Regional.

Georgia Tech (36-21) is coming off a 9-1 mercy-rule victory over Virginia Tech in the ACC tournament final, and has won four games in a row. Alabama defeated the Yellow Jackets 12-9 in a slugfest at a tournament in Auburn in mid-February.

"Great offensive team," UA first baseman Cassie Reilly-Boccia said. "That was a unique situation, umpire had a much smaller strike zone, so it was definitely a higher-scoring game. Both offenses were on display for sure."

South Alabama (39-15) upset sixth-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette in the Sun Belt tournament final to earn its first-ever bid to the NCAA Tournament. Alabama defeated USA 12-1 in five innings in Mobile in a tournament on the season's opening weekend in February.

"It was probably like 35 or 40 degrees that night and we were cold," Reilly-Boccia said. "I remember that, and I remember thinking if we win this game right now we're going to win a lot of games this year, just because we were able to handle adversity that night."

Tennessee-Martin (39-20) has faced Georgia Tech this season, falling 8-6 in eight innings in early March. The Skyhawks lost both ends of a doubleheader at Arkansas in their only outings against SEC opposition this season.

In past NCAA postseason play, Alabama has faced Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State over the Ohio Valley Conference.

"Those schools get a lot of kids that are under-recruited, overlooked, and they play great softball in that league," Murphy said. "We've tried to schedule them for years and never got it done, so it will be fun to play them in the regional."

If UA wins its regional, it will host the winner of the Louisville, Ky., Regional the following weekend in a best-of-three NCAA Super Regional. Louisville (53-3), ranked 15th, is the top seed in a regional that includes Michigan (39-15), Kentucky (29-28) and Valparaiso (42-17).

Further down the road, Alabama's seeding sets up a possible World Series matchup with Tennessee or Georgia -- which are set up to play in a Super Regional if both advance.

"I think this team has done a really good job of not (looking ahead)," Murphy said. "It came down to the last weekend in the SEC and I don't think anybody looked ahead -- and if we had we wouldn't be in the position that we were to win it. We've done it enough, this is 14 consecutive years, we will not overlook Tennessee-Martin, and that's all we're going to talk about ... with the team."

Reach Tommy Deas at tommy@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0224.



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