Defending Champion Alabama Won’t be Back to Defend National Softball Title

Alabama College Softball

Defending Champion Alabama Won’t be Back to Defend National Softball Title

With defending national champion Alabama being eliminated in the Super Regional by one of its own SEC rivals, the University of Tennessee, some fans might wonder when was the last time a national champion didn’t return to Oklahoma City to defend its title.

Alabama not returning marks the fourth time since 1982 that a national champion didn’t return to defend its title. The first time was in 1986 when 1985 national champion UCLA didn’t advance to the WCWS with Cal State Fullerton winning in 1986. The second time came in 2006 when 2005 national champion Michigan, which surprised 2004 champion UCLA, wasn’t among the final eight teams in OKC. Michigan is one of the eight teams already qualified for this year and will face No. 1 ranked Oklahoma on Thursday. The third time was in 2011 when defending champion UCLA didn’t advance to the WCWS. In fact, the Bruins haven’t advanced to the WCWS after winning the 2010 title behind the outstanding play of Megan Langenfield, who now is a grad student at Arkansas and attend the recent regional in Norman, Oklahoma.

Also missing from this year’s elite eight is eight-time national champion Arizona, which suffered through a 33-26 season and used three pitchers who combined to give up 71 homers and had an ERA of 3.90. Kenzie Fowler, who figured to anchor the staff, opted to have back surgery and redshirted the season with hopes of leading the Wildcats back among the nation’s elite in 2014. The loss marks the first time that Arizona has failed to make it out of regionals since 2004. The Cats’ 33 wins mark the fewest since winning 27 games in 1986, while the losses are the most in AU softball history.

Alabama lost the second and deciding game to the Vols, 5-3 to finish with a 49-10 record and couldn’t hold an early 3-0 lead as the Vols scored four times over a three-inning span to earn another trip to Oklahoma City. Alabama senior Kayla Braud, who was one of the mainstays in Alabama winning the school’s and the SEC’s first national title last year, put the cap on an outstanding year and season, finishing with a career batting average of .438, plus she ranked second in on-base percentage (.512), runs (271), hits (344) and stolen bases (182). And, of course, it wasn’t the way she or her teammates wanted to end their season.  The Vols are now 49-10 heading to OKC.

Alabama raced out to an early 3-0 lead but Tennessee was able to chip away and eventually took the lead for good by scoring four runs over a three inning span to advance to Oklahoma City. Jackie Traina, who was the Most Outstanding Player last year in OKC, took the loss and allowed four runs—three earned on eight hits to finish the year 19-8.

What was surprising was why did Tennessee and Alabama, two schools which have a strong base of fans, have to play one another in the Super Regionals? Eliminating one ousted a potential strong following of fans from either school, after the two had battled throughout the year in the SEC. The two Super Regional games in Knoxville drew 1,650 fans each game. Why couldn’t the NCAA have sent one of the teams to another Super Regional? It would have made more sense to have both of these teams in OKC and put them in different regionals. The Vols and Crimson Tide played three times during the SEC with Tennessee winning 4-3 and 2-1 and losing 7-1, besides playing each other twice more in the Super Regionals.

Who knows if Alabama would have won if it had played in another Super Regional, but coaches and fans certainly would like to play different teams and not play one of their league archrivals. The Tide did extend their streak to ten Super Regional appearances, but the loss stopped their attempt of repeating as national champions.