Clicking on all cylinders
South Alabama on the rise; Michigan's streak continues at 22
Brittany Fowler can pinpoint the exact moment South Alabama’s softball program took a turn in the right direction.
On May 13, 2010, the Jaguars had just lost Sun Belt Conference tournament games on consecutive days to finish the season 21-24.
“Coach [Becky Clark] had a meeting with us all who were returning the day after we lost,” said Fowler, USA’s senior shortstop who has essentially rewritten the program record book. “We still all remember the speech. She said, ‘We are going to change this program. We are going to become a powerhouse.’ We took it to heart.”
Fast forward to 2013 and South Alabama is ranked 18th in the USA Today/NFCA poll and 16th in RPI.
Clark took a monumental leap of faith in the summer of 2005, accepting the head coaching job at a program that was nonexistent.
Her vision was to compete for championships, just as she had done in three years at nearby NAIA powerhouse Mobile.
Last season, the Jaguars won the Sun Belt Conference tournament and an NCAA Regional game against Georgia Tech. Two losses to No. 2 Alabama ended the season but left the return athletes knowing the bar had been raised.
“As the head coach, its your job to know what the big picture is and you try to help them get to that point so they know what it looks like,” Clark said. “I think once they’ve been on that stage, everything kind of clicks.”
Clicking right now.
South Alabama (41-7) got a no-hitter from sophomore Farish Beard against Troy on Wednesday for its 12th win in a row. The 41 victories match last year’s total with two regular-season games remaining, the Sun Belt Conference tournament and potentially the program’s second NCAA Regional bid.
“It was great to get that [NCAA Regional] experience,” said Fowler, the team’s leadoff hitter. “It really fueled us and made us want to get back. The feeling of playing in the postseason is something you can’t describe.”
Coach Carol Hutchins’ Michigan softball team is unbelievably confident.
With 22 consecutive victories, the Wolverines have a reason to be confident.
Hutchins’ job is to keep her squad humble, not an easy task in this era of social media. She’s always preached to win the next pitch and Michigan is winning a lot of next pitches.
|MICHIGAN'S 22-GAME STREAK|
|• Last loss: March 14 vs. Virginia Tech.|
|• Outscored opponents 208-62.|
|• Allowed one run or fewer in nine games.|
“We’ve won games in all sorts of fashions,” Hutchins said. “Sometimes we’ve been able to blow it out and sometimes we’ve had to scratch and claw.
“I guess we don’t even talk about the streak. It is not our focus. I just want to win the game we’re playing. The streak would be a result of that.”
Continuing to win through the weekend would provide a boost to Michigan’s postseason resume.
The Wolverines travel to No. 20 Nebraska, 10th in RPI, for a three-game Big Ten series beginning Friday.
“It has implications for the conference, but more importantly for what we hope to accomplish in May,” Hutchins said. “I think our kids are up for the challenge. If we don’t win three games, it’s a good challenge for us to realize it’s just a loss.”
While the Big Ten’s only two ranked teams face each other, there are four additional matchups between ranked opponents, highlighted by top-10 foes in the Pac-12.
No. 10 California travels to No. 5 Arizona State and No. 6 Oregon prepares to face No. 16 UCLA.
Meanwhile, Southeastern Conference rivals Alabama and LSU square off in Baton Rouge. The Crimson Tide is ranked fourth and LSU is just outside the top 10 at No. 12. Also in the SEC, No. 11 Missouri travels to No. 19 Kentucky.