Tuscaloosa, AL (WIAT)-The Alabama softball team put in their final practice on Thursday before the start of the NCAA Regional Tournament in Tuscaloosa.
Earning a 10 seed came as somewhat of a disappointment to the Tide but it's a new beginning and they are ready to defend their National Title.
"Obviously it's not exactly what we want, but in the same breath it's like a clean slate from here on out," said Alabama Infielder Kaila Hunt. "It really doesn't matter what we did before, it's anybody's game from here on out."
"Once you get in, anything can happen as long as you punch that ticket into the NCAA Tournament, that's when the magic happens," said Alabama Outfielder Kayla Braud. So it doesn't matter what your seed is. You are going to face great teams all the time."
Alabama's first opponent is Jacksonville State.
The Gamecocks are making their fifth NCAA Tournament appearance in six years and are anxious for the challenge.
"Alabama is a great team and as long as we do the little things right and we have defense, timely hitting, the good pitching, we are ready to play," said Jacksonville State pitcher Tiffany Harbin.
Western Kentucky will open the Tuscaloosa Regional up against USC Upstate Friday at 3:30 p.m.
Alabama and Jacksonville State will take the field in game two 6 p.m.
NCAA Tuscaloosa Softball Regional Practice Day Press Conference Quotes
HEAD COACH PATRICK MURPHY
"I just want to say welcome to the other three teams. I think it's really cool that for two of the three it's their first time in an NCAA event. It's a pleasure to host them at Alabama. In years past, I think our event staff has done a great job, obviously our fans are awesome and you guys at the media treat us very well. Congrats to Western Kentucky and USC-Upstate and of course Jacksonville State whose a regular now in regionals."
On momentum in the post season:
"Well I think you can look at years past and there are some teams that just ended the year horribly and ended up in the World Series or as a national champion – in all sports, not just softball. There might be one little key play and I think really one of the biggest for us all year was when Danielle Richard hit that triple to beat Texas A&M in the bottom of the seventh with two outs and two strikes. That was the first time all year that we had come from behind in the last inning. As a coach you want that to happen sooner rather than later, because every time it doesn't happen there's a doubt in their head and it took until the 54th game, or whatever it was, for us to do that. That was a huge accomplishment and I think that's a huge momentum shift for us. Now maybe we get down one of these games and we have that to lean on. That to me is big momentum. It was a week ago, but we still remember that. We just need a spark and it doesn't matter who – it could be Haylie McCleney, it could be Keima Davis or it could be Leslie Jury – it doesn't matter. Usually somebody does step to the forefront and says ‘this is going to be my weekend.'"
#1 Kayla Braud, OF:
On playing in a regional:
"It's a different atmosphere, is the best way to describe it, because there's something greater on the line than just a regular season win – it's postseason, it's something special in the air when postseason comes around. Teams play harder, we play harder. The fans are louder and crazier and more into the games and it's just a special experience. We were talking after practice and Molly Fichtner hasn't ever been in a regional before. She had this big grin on her face after Murph (coach Patrick Murphy) was talking about it. That's a regional – it's something special that not everybody gets to experience. You are playing for your life and it makes playing softball that much greater – when something's on the line, when something bigger is on the line."
#10 Kaila Hunt, IF:
On Alabama's seeding and if that fuels passion:
"Yeah definitely – we kind of talked about being the underdogs. Jackie [Traina] was just talking about how we are kind of like the [MLB's St. Louis] Cardinals. They come in as the wildcard and end up winning the World Series. It's kind of like a different experience than from last year. Last year we were the number two seed and we had all the experience. Obviously it's not exactly what we want, but in the same breath it's like a clean slate from here on out. It really doesn't matter what we did before – it's anybody's game from here on out. You could go into next weekend as the number one seed and could be eliminated. You may have had a great year up until now, but you may not be playing next weekend. What happened before this, we are kind of just trying to wipe it away."
HEAD COACH JANA MCGINNIS
"First, I would like to say what an honor it is for Jacksonville State University to be here in the NCAA Regionals. As a coach you want your players to get to experience the best of softball. Other than making it to the College World Series, this atmosphere that we will experience this week is the best thing. Alabama always puts on a first class tournament and we will get to experience it. I am thankful. For a school like Jacksonville State, when you are able to win a conference championship and make it to the post season, it is not just good for the softball team but the whole school. It's like it gives us a shot of energy, or caffeine. You see a lot of excitement around the athletic department. We are glad to be here."
On your postseason success:
"I don't think that it is a secret. I think that from the time the girls walk onto our campus they understand that we want them to be successful in everything they do, be it in the classroom or on the field. We try to recruit good kids, not just great athletes. At Jacksonville State, I don't know if I have ever signed a "five-star athlete". We sign good girls; good athletes that we see the potential to be successful and overachieve. We are going to win with good people. That is why I am so proud of this team. If you look at them on paper they don't have the numbers or the home runs that you look at on the stat sheet. What they do have is what you don't see; it's the caring about each other and the hard work. "
#3 Tiffany Harbin, P
On the OVC Tournament
"The conference tournament was very exciting. I do not think that a lot of people expected us to go in there and do what we did. We took it one game at a time. The adrenaline all week kept us going."
#12 Sara Borders, IF
On the OVC Tournament
"It was very exciting to get to play in the conference tournament, let alone win the conference tournament. It was a great opportunity to be able to show all of the hard work that you have put in for six months."
#26 Kelsi Johnston, IF
On the OVC Tourment
"This team has worked so hard. We have had our ups and downs. We came together as a team and played with heart. We are all so happy to be here and get to play in a regional."
On the opportunity to play at Alabama
"It is exciting. It would have been exciting wherever we went. There will be a lot of fans on both sides here. We are all looking forward to getting to play in front of this kind of crowd. The new girls will get to experience playing in a regional."
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