JACKSONVILLE — Jana McGinnis has compared this year's Jacksonville State softball
team to her last team that made the NCAA Tournament many times during this
It has the same low-maintanence off-field demeanor and a lineup without a
superstar. But there is one element the Gamecocks would like to see different
when they return to the regionals today at Tuscaloosa — the ability to score
Weather permitting, the Gamecocks (38-14) open the Tuscaloosa Regional today
at 4 p.m. against Florida State (37-26). No. 3 national seed Alabama (51-6)
concludes the day's play at the Alabama Softball Complex against Chattanooga
(41-20) at 6:30.
The last time Jax State made it to the NCAA Tournament — 1996 — it swept a
play-in series at UNC-Greensboro, then went to Washington and lost twice without
scoring a run.
The players don't envision that happening this time.
"There's not a doubt in my mind that we're going to be able to score not only
a few runs, but a whole bunch of runs," first baseman Nikki Prier said. "We've
got the talent and the bats that have stuck with us all year. From 1 to 9, we're
a top-notch hitting team. You can't not pitch to someone because you've got
someone just as good or better behind them … One through nine, we're just an
awesome hitting team."
Indeed. Six of their hitters are bating .297 or better, and eight of their
nine regulars have at least three homers and 22 RBIs. They rank in the top 25
nationally in hitting and the top 10 in scoring, homers (third), doubles and
Rachel Fleming, the OVC Tournament most valuable player, leads the team with
a .375 average. Catcher Allie Barker has 15 homers and 44 RBIs, while Prier has
14 homers and 45 RBIs. Leadoff hitter Chrissy O'Neal has homers and No. 9 hitter
Mary Beth Ledbetter has seven homers.
"The thing with this team is we really don't have superstars on this team; 1
through 9 are all good hitters and we have people who can come in who are good
hitters, too," Barker said. "There's not just one or two you have to pitch
around, I think with our team it's the whole team … Everyone has a chance to do
it and they can do it. It's very nice."
Alabama, hosting its third straight regional, is making its 10th straight
NCAA tournament appearance overall. The Crimson Tide made it to back-to-back
Women's College World Series in 2005 and 2006, but lost in a Super Regional at
Washington last year.
Having to travel before the World Series won't be a problem for Alabama,
which will host a Super Regional next week if it emerges victorious from this
weekend's games. The Crimson Tide is 10-1 in regional play the last three years,
with the lone loss to Tennessee Tech in last year's opening round.
"We have told them all week long that we need to take care of business,"
Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. "Anyone that is in is a good team and I
thought that last year we had one of the best of the four-seeds. I think
Chattanooga is one of the best four seeds; they are not a typical four seed. It
is just like last year. We have talked about what happened last year."
Pitching inconsistency was Alabama's biggest bugaboo a year ago, but Murphy
solved that problem in a big way this year. Kelsi Dunne immediately stepped in
as the Crimson Tide's ace this year, going 22-4 with a 1.40 ERA and earning SEC
Freshman of the Year honors this season.
Alabama has been one of the country's better teams at the plate all season,
averaging nearly eight runs per game. Center fielder Brittany Murphy leads the
country in steals (53) and runs scored (68), while first baseman Charlotte
Morgan paces the SEC in RBIs (67) and is tied for tops in the conference in home
Florida State is a team built on speed. Leading hitters Carly Wynn and
Whitney Buckmon — the first two hitters in the lineup — are batting .371 and
.342, respectively, and have combined for 38 stolen bases in 46 attempts. The
Seminoles have 61 stolen bases as a team, but have hit only 26 home runs.
Pitcher Tiffany McDonald, 17-11 with a 1.63 ERA and 219 strikeouts, is the
sister of former JSU standout Melinda McDonald. And she's not the only FSU
player with a Jax State connecton. JSU designated player Kayla Collins
transferred from FSU and her sister Allison is a catcher on the team.
If the Gamecocks and Alabama have the same outcome in their first games — win
or lose — they'll meet each other Friday.
The Gamecocks lost to the then-No. 4 Tide 6-2 in the early-season Bama Bash.
It was a game JSU led 1-0 before giving up four runs in the third inning.
Even if they play Chattanooga in the second round, the Gamecocks know they've
already beaten the Mocs twice this year, but they would love nothing better than
another crack at the Tide.
"We played good against them the first time, but we're better now," Prier
said. "We played more as a team and we know we can give them a great run for
their money, and beat them."
Today: JSU vs. Florida State
4 p.m., 91.9-FM; Chattanooga at
Alabama, 6:30 p.m.
See story at The Anniston Star's website: www.annistonstar.com