OKLAHOMA CITY -- For the second time in three seasons, Jackie Traina will try to pitch the Alabama Crimson Tide to a national championship.
In 2012, Traina out-dueled Oklahoma's Keilani Ricketts and led head coach Patrick Murphy's squad to the Women's College World Series title, the first in Southeastern Conference history. After missing the WCWS a year ago, Alabama and Traina are back in Oklahoma City. And through three games it's been Traina, a senior from Naples, Florida, who has once again led the charge.After giving up a first-inning home run to Shelby Pendley on Thursday, Traina did not allow another hit to the offensive-minded Oklahoma Sooners in a 6-2 win. A day later, SEC rival Kentucky did not cross the plate, managing just four hits. On Sunday, with a trip to the best-of-three championship series on the line, Traina tossed a four-hit shutout as the Tide beat top-seeded Oregon 2-0.
Sunday was not without some drama. Oregon's Janelle Lindvall, with a runner aboard in the sixth, sent a Traina pitch high into the air down the left field line that was barely foul. Traina, not rattled, came right back to strike out Lindvall. After getting a soft pop out, Traina gave up a single that put runners at first and second. But Sammie Puentes took a called third strike to end it.
"I mean it always feels familiar," said Traina of big pitches in big moments. "I feel like it's always like that. So I just pulled from those different times that I have been in those situations. I know that I can trust my defense, which makes it a lot easier. I know they're behind me so I didn't have any doubt."
Through three games, Traina has worked 21 innings, given up nine hits and struck out 23.
After Kentucky faced the fire-baller, Wildcat head coach Rachel Lawson called Traina, "the best pitcher in college softball; under the lights she is incredible."
Oregon head coach Mike White, as a player and coach, has seen his fair share of quality pitchers.
"She just challenges you around the plate, and sometimes you've got to get going, and you've got to be good at stopping your swing," White said. "She didn't really use the changeup, which was surprising; maybe she thought I was going to pick it or something, I don't know. But she just flat out blew it by us … gotta give her props for that."
To say that she has been a workhorse is a bit of an understatement. Since arriving in Tuscaloosa, Traina has appeared in 156 games, starting 128, tossed 856 innings, and struck out 970.
Up next is a very familiar foe -- Florida. Two played three times during the regular season with the Tide winning twice back in March. The Gators also have a talented veteran pitcher in Hannah Rogers, who is also 3-0 in the 2014 WCWS.
"[Florida] is a great team," Traina said. "We saw them once this year and we're just going to go into it like any other team. They're a good -- they're very good and we have to make quick adjustments during the game and play Alabama softball."
Among the SEC's all-time best pitchers, Rogers' 125 career wins rank third behind Tennessee's Monica Abbott and Florida's Stacey Nelson; Traina has 106 and ranks seventh.
"Jackie will go down as probably the greatest in Alabama softball history and one of the best in women's softball," Murphy said of his senior.
Two national titles in three years would seal that fate.