Motivation

Not behind the 8 ball: Alabama uses No. 8 national seed as motivation entering NCAA Tournament – Montgomery Advertiser

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TUSCALOOSA — The shock and indignation rose with each unveiling.

First it was Florida — a bitter SEC rival that Alabama swept in Gainesville during the regular season but lost 2-1 to in the SEC Tournament championship game Saturday — drawing the No. 5 national seed, where many inside the Rhoads Stadium field house expected the Crimson Tide to land Sunday night.

As Arizona and Minnesota — two more teams that Alabama beat by combined score of 14-3 during February’s non-conference slate earlier this season — were announced as the sixth and seventh national seeds, audible gasps were quickly followed by one player asking the question most in the room were thinking in that moment: “What is happening?!”

“For me personally, I felt like it was a little disappointing,” Alabama senior catcher Reagan Dykes said later Sunday night of the team’s No. 8 seeding. “We swept Florida at Florida, who placed hired than us, we beat Arizona at Arizona in the preseason, and also Minnesota at home — three teams that were placed higher than us, we beat all three of them (head-to-head during the regular season). So, we just felt like we were a little disrespected (by) the committee.”

Finally, as the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide (52-7, 18-6 SEC) was revealed as the No. 8 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, the initial elation that filled the softball team lounge only veiled a re-ignited sense of impertinence that propelled Alabama to claim the Southeastern Conference regular-season championship by four games after it was projected to finish eighth in the league’s preseason poll, as voted on by SEC coaches.

As longtime head coach Patrick Murphy told the SEC Network crew during a live broadcast within minutes of the announcement: “Eight has been our motivating number all year long, so what the hell, we’re going to use it again. … We’re going to ride this all the way to Oklahoma City.”

With renewed contempt following the NCAA selection committee’s perceived snub of the Crimson Tide’s 106th ranked non-conference schedule — which included wins over fellow tournament teams Arizona, Cal State Fullerton, South Florida and Minnesota, the latter of which was seemingly rewarded for traveling to Tuscaloosa — several Alabama staffers quickly moved the 6-by-4-foot number 8 poster that’s hung in the team meeting room since February and placed it prominently in the lounge to once again serve as a daily reminder of the lack of respect levied against their team this season.

“It was a little surprising considering we had nine Top-10 wins and one loss, and that was in the (SEC) Championship on a neutral site,” Murphy said. “Like I said to ESPN earlier, I don’t have all the numbers in front of me, it was probably our non-conference schedule. But when you take care of business in the conference … and lead from start to finish, I thought that would carry a little more weight. Obviously not.”

With a NCAA-leading 52 wins entering the postseason — one more than fourth-seeded Florida State (51-8) and three more than top-seeded Oklahoma (49-2) — to go along with a 33-game win streak to open the season and a 9-1 record against RPI Top-10 teams, Alabama’s players felt their resume matched up with anybody in the nation, and was more than worthy of a Top-5 seed.

“I just think this team has really worked hard and as a team, we really proved ourselves, especially in SEC play,” Dykes said. “Coming out expected to be No. 8 and finishing 1, we felt that was enough to bring us higher up in the seeding. But hey, we’ll take 8, that’s been our motivation all year and we’ll continue to have that going into postseason.”

As the No. 8 seed, Alabama was dealt a more difficult road seed-wise, with the potential to host the winner of the Austin Regional between No. 9 seeded Texas (41-14), Sam Houston State (34-21), Houston (37-17) and Texas A&M (28-25). From there, the Crimson Tide would draw the top-seeded Sooners in the first round of the Women’s College World Series, should both teams advance to that point as expected.  

Recency bias may have played a significant factor in the 10-person selection committee’s process with Florida’s 2-1 win over Alabama coming Saturday evening, just before the panel met to determine seeds. That said, there’s no dwelling in Sunday night’s disappointment.

“I think the four wins for Florida (in the SEC Tournament) definitely helped them,” Murphy said. “You’ve got to beat somebody, or everybody, at some point down the stretch. So it’s really no big deal.”

While it wasn’t the seed many expected, it was still among the Top 8 to earn Alabama homefield advantage through the first two rounds, as it hosts No. 28 Arizona State (33-18), Lipscomb (41-13-1), and Alabama State (24-23) in this weekend’s Tuscaloosa Regional. The Tide, which have won an NCAA record 37 consecutive regional games, plays the instate Hornets at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Rhoads Stadium.

“We’re going to respect the hell out of everybody that comes here,” Murphy said. “That’s been our mantra since we’ve hosted, because you don’t want to look past anybody – the last time we lost (a regional game), I think we did that to a really good Tennessee Tech team (in 2007). And we’re not going to do that.”

Still, Montgomery-based Alabama State enters Friday night facing a ‘highly motivated’ buzz saw, one that’s ready to once again prove the powers that be that they were wrong in their assessment.

“I think our girls are going to be highly motivated, but they’ve been like that all year long,” Murphy said. “I think they’ve felt it from the very beginning. I can remember when that (preseason) poll came out, I literally went around the room and said: ‘They don’t think you’re any good.’ … We’ve earned the Top 8 seed, which is what we wanted, and we’re going to run with it.”

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