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May 22, 2013

SOFTBALL: Alabama, Tennessee meet for WCWS spot

Patrick Murphy would rather play someone else. So would Ralph Weekly.

Neither the University of Alabama's Murphy nor Tennessee co-head coach Weekly was thrilled, when the NCAA softball tournament field was revealed, to find that the Crimson Tide and Lady Vols were on a collision course.

They play a best-of-three super regional this weekend in Knoxville, Tenn. The winner is going to the Women's College World Series. The loser is going home.

"My thoughts are that one of the best eight teams in the country is not going to be there in the World Series," said Weekly, who shares head coaching duties with wife Karen. "We know our team is good and we know they're good. Who knows what's going to happen this weekend, but one thing for sure is one of us is going to go."

With the Southeastern Conference placing 11 teams in the 64-team national championship field, the likelihood of an all-SEC super regional increased.

"It was inevitable," Murphy said. "I think the strength of our conference is going to force us to have those matchups in a round where we don't really want it to be. The numbers don't add up, and we were the ones this year that had to do it that way."

Last year, Tennessee had to beat Georgia in the super regional round to advance to the World Series in Oklahoma City, where the Lady Vols faced Alabama in the first round. This time around, the Alabama-Tennessee winner will face SEC foe Florida in a first-round World Series matchup if the Gators win their super regional against UAB.

"This is two years in a row," Weekly said. "That's the way we felt last year when we got Georgia.

"I think our teams kind of mirror each other a little bit. Watching them during the season, we don't have great hitting all through our order right now, but we have the capacity, which I know they also do. We both rely on pitching. I don't really see any weaknesses. We've had the same kind of seasons."

Tennesee won two of three games against Alabama when the teams met in early March to open SEC play. The Lady Vols won 4-3 and 2-1, with Alabama winning 7-1.

"We outscored them in the series when we went up there, but we only won one game," Murphy said. "The first two were classics, could have gone either way."

For fans, Alabama vs. Tennessee is a heated rivalry. In softball, it's a respectful one.

"There's a lot of respect by us for Alabama, and I think they respect us," Weekly said. "It's going to be a tremendous series."

Said Murphy, "They are always very classy, they play the right way, they've never been dirty. Win or lose, they're sportsmen, and that doesn't happen everywhere. I just think they coach and play the right way.

"It's more of a friendly rivalry than a hatred rivalry. It's unfortunate, because you don't like to play your friends to get to a spot where you both want to go. You'd rather beat somebody you don't like."

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

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