Feb. 25, 2009

By Kyle Kensing

NCAA.com

 

The “best tournament on the West Coast” certainly had its share of drama for No. 1 Alabama.

 

The Crimson Tide made the cross-country trek to the Cathedral City Classic in Palm Springs, Calif. and won a pair of games in walk-off fashion. But for head coach Patrick Murphy, the 32-team tournament was more than just another weekend invite.

 

 “Every team we played [brought a style] we don’t normally get to see in the South,” he said. “Different styles of pitching, power teams, run-at-any-moment teams…you can tell the difference in styles of play.”

 

The field truly ran the gamut, and those styles tested the Tide’s mettle according to Murphy.

 

“[The Cathedral City Classic] is high exposure with a ton of great teams,” he said. “And for our program [the weekend]’s about showing what Alabama softball is about.”

 

Its consecutive walk-off wins highlighted the weekend for Alabama, the first coming off the bat of Kelley Montalvo against No. 8 Oklahoma.

 

Freshman Amanda Locke did the job in the second win, breaking a scoreless stalemate vs. Hawaii for a 1-0 victory in the eighth inning.

 

The games leading up to that most nerve-racking of finales included back-to-back shutouts of BYU and Oregon. The Tide’s lone setback of the tournament and first of the season was at the hands of UCLA.

 

Murphy said facing western programs and playing in California are both important to future success.

 

“It’s fun facing teams like UCLA, Oregon…and [the West] is still the epicenter of softball.”

 

While the West has had something of a monopoly on the sport at the Div. I collegiate level, 2009 could be the year the South rises.

 

Fellow SEC participants and Top 10 ranked Florida and Tennessee also made the excursion to Palm Springs, and both went unbeaten on the weekend.

 

“Tennessee looked really, really good,” Murphy said, but added that the SEC won’t necessarily come down to a three-team race.

“Auburn only has one loss. Georgia’s great again. South Carolina only has two losses. Ole Miss is much improved, Mississippi State is much improved. You go down the list and it’s just a scary conference.”

 

Murphy added that with two weekend tournaments remaining before conference play, his team’s goal is to “improve something every weekend.

 

“We always say, ‘pitching is consistent; speed never slumps; hitting will find a way to win.’”

 

Aiding in the Tide’s early strides toward that three-point is sophomore Whitney Larsen. She leads the squad in batting average at .441, an improvement of nearly .200 from her freshman year. She’s also driven in 10 runs.

 

“A lot of the California teams commented on her,” Murphy said. “She played on a great club team. She was a great athlete in high, played point guard for her high school basketball team [Vestavia Hills, Ala.], which played in two state championships.” 

 

The homegrown product should have a key role as the Tide push for a Women’s College World Series berth, and seek to snap the SEC’s fruitless streak in that championship series.

 

Murphy said finally bringing the title back to the South – his goal being Tuscaloosa, Ala., specifically – comes down to breaks.

 

“It’s a game of inches, especially when you get there [to Oklahoma City] with eight really great teams.

 

“We’ve been there five times and…every year it’s come down to one little thing. The team that gets that break wins.”

 

Bark At The Moon

Washington, another participant in the Cathedral City Classic, is off to a pretty good start. Scratch that – the Huskies are off to the best start in program history, 14-0, and ranked No. 1 in a national poll for the first time in nine years.

 

Canadian-born All-American Danielle Lawrie is a big reason for the Huskies’ early success. She went 3-0 at Cathedral City and no team has notched a run against her in 24 innings.

 

UW hosts its own Husky Softball Classic this weekend and should emerge unscathed. If so, look forward to a Washington trip to Tuscaloosa and showdown with Alabama March 6, possibly with No. 1 on the line.