No. 3 Softball Opens 2011 Season in Hibbett/Easton All-Alabama Classic

ROLLTIDEDOTCOM Senior Whitney Larsen returns to her old stomping grounds this weekend in Vestavia Hills.
Senior Whitney Larsen returns to her old stomping grounds this weekend in Vestavia Hills.

Feb. 10, 2011

Games 1-5 |  No. 3/6 Alabama (0-0, 0-0 SEC) at Hibbett/Easton All-Alabam Classic

Friday, Feb. 11 6:00 p.m. CT
Saturday, Feb. 12 1:30 p.m. CT (DH)
Sunday, Feb. 13 11:00 a.m. CT (DH

 Location Vestavia Hills, Ala. | Liberty Park
 Tickets $25 Tourney Pass | $10 Daily
 Television None
 Radio Friday | Saturday | Sunday
 Live Stats GameTracker (Gm 1) | GameTracker (Gm 2) | GameTracker (Gm 3) | GameTracker (Gm 4) | GameTracker (Gm 5)
 Game Notes Alabama Notes Get Acrobat Reader | SEC Notes Get Acrobat Reader
Tourney Record First Appearance

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The No. 3/6 ranked Alabama softball team will open up its season this weekend in Vestavia Hills, Ala., at Liberty Park in the inaugural Hibbett/Easton All-Alabama Softball Classic. The nine-team field will feature Samford, Alabama A&M, Alabama State, Auburn, Jacksonville State, Samford, South Alabama, Troy and UAB. Of the teams competing, four teams (Alabama, Auburn, Jacksonville State, and UAB) earned trips to the 2010 NCAA Tournament. A total of 22 games will be played, beginning on Friday, Feb. 11, and going through Sunday, Feb. 13. The Crimson Tide's first game will be against Samford at 6 p.m. Alabama will then play Alabama A&M and Jacksonville State on Saturday, followed by South Alabama and Troy on Sunday.

2010 RECAP
Alabama had a very successful 2010 campaign. The Crimson Tide went 52-11, including 23-4 in SEC play. Alabama finished atop the SEC standings and went on to sweep the SEC Tournament title. In the NCAA Tournament, The Tide was the No. 1 national seed in the field. Alabama cruised through the NCAA Regional in Tuscaloosa and went on to play No. 19 Hawai'i in the NCAA Super Regional hosted at the Alabama Softball Complex. In the best-of-three series, No. 3 Alabama defeated Hawai'i in the first game, 8-0. Hawai'i went on to upset the Crimson Tide by winning the next two contests 8-7 and 5-4, respectively. 

Alabama's achievements in 2011 will in large part be determined by the play of sophomore Kayla Braud (Eugene, Ore.). Braud will look to ignite the Tide this season by coming off a tremendous freshman year. Among Braud's accomplishments last season were being named SEC Freshman of the Year, being tabbed a NFCA second-team All-American, and she became a top-10 finalist for ASA/USA Player of the Year. On top of that, Braud led the SEC during league games in runs scored (38) and ranked second in batting average (.500), hits (42), and on base percentage (.580). In Alabama career records, Braud broke the Crimson Tide single-season record for batting average slugging at a .505 clip. 

The Bulldogs are beginning their first year under new head coach Stephanie VanBrakle. VanBrakle, a former All-American pitcher out of the University of Alabama, was hired May 10. She came to Samford after spending the last two seasons as the head coach at Birmingham-Southern. There, she posted a record of 57-14 in her two seasons with the Panthers, for an impressive .803 winning percentage. Last season, the Bulldogs posted a record of 19-31, winning nine games at Bulldog Field. Samford was led by returners Robyn Harmon and Alex Adams, who averaged .345 and .273 at the plate, respectively. The Bulldogs lost four seniors to graduation, but return the rest of the 2010 roster except for one. They also add two transfers from BSC and three freshmen to the 2011 roster.

A&M finishes its 2010 campaign with an 8-25 overall record, including a 3-14 mark in the SWAC. Sophomore third-baseman Jasmin Riley was named first team all-SWAC as voted on by schools' coaches and sports information departments after the conclusion of the 2010 season. The Ellenwood, Ga., native led the conference with a .455 batting average, was first in slugging percentage (.737), second in on base percentage (.509), second in hits (45), and second in total bases (73).

The Gamecocks are coming off of their third-straight appearance in the NCAA Softball Regional after winning the 2010 Ohio Valley Conference Tournament in Martin, Tenn. JSU advanced to the Atlanta Regional before being eliminated by Auburn. The Gamecocks put together a 30-19 record that included a 13-6 mark in OVC play before sweeping through the conference tourney.

The Jaguars return 10 players from the 2010 season that went 21-24, and welcome six newcomers', three of which are true freshmen. Sophomore Brittany Fowler returns after leading the team in runs scored (32), hits (47), triples (3), and at-bats (138). The Jacksonville, Fla., native received second team all-Sun Belt Conference honors and started in all 44 games last season as a freshman. Christin Crocker, a junior from Birmingham, led the team in doubles (11) and ranked second in runs scored (25). Haley Hopkins finished the season with a team-leading eight homeruns and 29 RBI.

The Trojans narrowly missed the NCAA Regional last season as the Sun Belt Conference runner-up, finishing 21-22. Troy returns 11 letter winners off of last year's team, including All-Conference selection Nikki Hollett and senior pitcher Ashlyn Williams - a two-time All-Conference selection.

Samford: Alabama will face Samford this season for the first time since 2009. The Tide won that last match 11-1 in five innings on April 8. The Tide allowed a first inning run but quickly took the lead with two in the bottom of the first. The Crimson Tide then tallied five in the third and tacked on four more in the fourth to earn the win. Alabama leads the all-time series against the Bulldogs, 16-2.

Alabama A&M: This will be the first time the two programs have met each other in softball play.

Jacksonville State: The Tide will look to remain undefeated against the Gamecocks. Alabama holds a 13-0 series advantage over Jacksonville State. The last time these two schools played each other was in the 2009 NCAA Super Regional in Tuscaloosa in May. Alabama swept the best-of-three series, keeping Jacksonville State hitless in both, as Kelsi Dunne mowed down the Gamecocks with a NCAA record back-to-back no-hitter gems. The run-rule wins were the seventh and eighth in regional play and third in the last two years against Jacksonville State.

South Alabama: In the few times Alabama and South Alabama have played each other, Alabama has won all three contests. The Tide recently played the Jaguars last season on Feb. 16. Despite being behind by a run with only six offensive outs remaining, the Crimson Tide scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth to seal the victory, 6-3.

Troy: Alabama will also look to remain undefeated against Troy. The Tide holds a 13-0 series lead over the Trojans. Alabama faced Troy last season in the middle of SEC play on April 20. Alabama dominated Troy in that matchup, 12-2. Senior Alex Blewitt hit two home runs in the same inning and Charlotte Morgan connected on a grand slam all in the nine-run fourth to power the Tide to 12 runs on nine hits.

The inaugural All-Alabama Classic will feature all nine division one teams in the state of Alabama as they will meet at the Vestavia Hills Sports Complex at Liberty Park. "This is going to be a great weekend in the state of Alabama," Crimson Tide head coach Patrick Murphy said. "It is going to be a very rare and special occasion to get all nine schools that play a specific sport in one location at the same time. The opening weekend is going to show the commitment and improvement of softball in the state of Alabama."

The coaches in the opposing dugout will be no strangers to seeing the Crimson and White hit the field, in fact all three Samford coaches dawned a Crimson Tide jersey for four years at some point in time. The Bulldogs head coach Stephanie VanBrakle is an Alabama softball legend and one of the best to ever throw from the circle for the Tide. VanBrakle received All-American honors during her span at the Capstone from 2003 to 2006. Assistant coaches Mandy Burford and Kellie Eubanks also played under Murphy at UA. Burford was a team captain for the Tide during her four years (2004-2007) and Eubanks helped take the Tide to back-to-back Women's College World Series semi-final appearances in her four year span (2006-2009).

The Amateur Softball Association of America (ASA), the National Governing Body of Softball in the United States, has selected its initial "Watch List" for the 10th Annual USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Award. Alabama senior Kelsi Dunne (Port Orange, Fla.) and the aforementioned Kayla Braud have been named to the list of 50. It is the third year in a row that Dunne has been named to the watch list. Braud was a top-10 finalist as a freshman in 2010.

The Southeastern Conference announced its fourth annual Preseason All-SEC team for the upcoming season of SEC Softball. The Tide had three players named to the list as seniors Kelsi Dunne and Whitney Larsen and sophomore Kayla Braud claimed the preseason honor. The preseason All-SEC team consists of 13 players. Braud was one of four sophomores selected, the rest of the list being seniors.

Tide ace Kelsi Dunne looks to maintain her status as one of Alabama's most celebrated pitchers. Dunne already currently holds the career records for lowest opponent batting average and most strikeouts per game. Along those lines, Dunne will also look to overtake Bama great Shelley Laird in most shutouts and most career wins at Alabama by the end of the season.

Coach Murphy did his best this season to challenge his squad in one of the toughest schedules for the 2011 season. The Tide will play a total of 33 games against teams that made the NCAA Division I tournament last season, including nine games against four different 2010 Women's College World Series participants. "We are looking forward to another very challenging schedule," Murphy said. "The SEC-ACC Challenge will be one of the best four-team tournaments in the country. Our fans deserve to see great teams at home." Alabama will play a total of 19 games against teams that are ranked in the top 25 in the preseason poll.

The Alabama softball team was once again tabbed as the favorite to take home the Southeastern Conference crown by the league's coaches as announced by the conference office on Jan. 25. It is the second consecutive year Alabama has been picked to win both the Western Division and overall crown. The Crimson Tide was the consensus favorite to win the SEC West, being picked first by all other 10 coaches. Alabama received four votes to win the overall championship, besting Tennessee and Georgia with three and Florida, who received one vote.

The Tide will return home to the newly named Rhoads Stadium to host the Bama Bash. The tournament will feature Louisville, UTSA and Syracuse. Alabama will face off on Friday, Feb. 18, against Louisville at 4 p.m. followed by UTSA at 6 p.m.