Crimson Tide set for round one challenger

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Alabama, Northwestern tangle in opening round of the Women’s College World Series

By Griffin Pritchard

The Selma Times-Journal

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For the third year in a row, the University of Alabama Crimson Tide softball team will take the field at Don E. Porter ASA Stadium in Oklahoma City in search of a National Championship.

“We just want to say thank you to everybody that’s been working on this championship for probably 365 days,” said Tide coach Patrick Murphy during the WCWS press conference.

“It seems to get bigger and bigger every year. It’s so much fun when we get here and we look forward to it every year.”

Their opponents, Big 10 champs Northwestern, are relative newcomers to the tournament.

“This is our first trip here and so far, it’s been a fantastic experience,” said Kate Drohan, skipper of the Northwestern Wildcats.

UA earned a berth into the tournament by sweeping Pac-10 challenger Stanford in two straight games last weekend.

Despite Stanford being sent back to the west coast, the conference did manage to have a trio of squads – Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon State – to make the trip to Oklahoma City.

Coming into Thursday’s first-round game, the Tide does have the advantage. This is the their third trip to the Final 8 and it’s their fourth in the past seven years.

“I think it’s really about keeping your composure since this is such an exciting environment,” said Stephanie VanBrankle, pitcher for the Tide. “It’s great to be back here my third time.”

Drohan, however, made it clear that her team, who had to win a game three against UMass from the Atlantic 10 Conference, wasn’t here just for the experience.

“I was quickly interrupted by one of our seniors who said, ‘You know, this is going to be a great experience, but we are here to win games.’ So basically we are going to take it one game at a time and just try to stick to our routine as we have done all year.”

The ‘Cats and Tide who, are seeded No. 5 and No. 4 respectively, will tee it up on Thursday at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.

Last season, the Tide opened the tournament with an extra-inning loss to Texas. They battled back in the second round to upend DePaul but were eliminated one day later by

The eight-team Women’s College World Series is comprised of eight teams split into two double-elimination brackets.

Northwestern and Alabama are paired in the same bracket with Tennessee and UCLA.

“We’re excited to be back once again,” said Sue Enquist, coach of the Lady Bruins. “I think what is exciting about this tournament is there are eight teams with depth, balance, speed, power and pitching, and I think that leads to an exciting championship.”

The No. 8 seeded Tennessee Volunteers and the No. 1 seeded Bruins will meet at 8 p.m. Thursday.

While no one’s road to Oklahoma City was a straight shot, the Vols had probably the toughest task. Tennessee was matched up with defending National Champion Michigan in the Knoxville Super Regional.

“Whenever you beat a team like Michigan, you’re going to have confidence and momentum,” said junior Vols player Lindsay Schutzler. “We’re just trying to harness that because that game is over and it doesn’t mean anything now.”

Arizona and Oregon State will open the Women’s College World Series with their noon tee time and will be followed by Arizona State and National runner-up from a year ago Texas at 2 p.m. on Thursday.

“I keep teasing Cat (Osterman) that she has to be 32 by now, because it seems like she has been around for so long after taking that year off for the Olympics,” said Connie Clark, Longhorns skipper. “It’s her last go-round with us so we absolutely want to put her out in circle to help lead us to a national championship.”