Good Sunday morning. One of the cool things about the Sunday paper is the extended space to write deeper stories. Here’s one I wrote today about softball’s place in the SEC hierarchy …
TUSCALOOSA— Kayla Braud didn’t grow up around here.
She’s from Pac-12 country – the softball promised land where national championships practically grow on trees. Still, the native Oregonian didn’t stick around when it was her turn for college glory.
Instead, she reversed traditional migration patterns to move 2,000 miles south and east to Tuscaloosa. Braud had bigger goals. Now as a junior on the Crimson Tide softball team, the star outfielder sits on the cusp of history.
No Southeastern Conference team has ever left the Women’s College World Series a champion. Not one in 20 combined appearances.
As the league currently holds seven national titles, the final frontier awaits this week in Oklahoma City. Alabama locked in its fourth trip in five years and eighth overall by sweeping Michigan in this week’s NCAA super regional.
At least two and as many as three SEC teams will make the trip this year, but No. 2 seed Alabama (55-7) carries the heaviest burden of expectations. It was a win away from playing for the title a year ago before conference rival Florida embarrassed the Tide. Consecutive losses by a combined score of 25-4 ended Alabama’s 53-11 season.
But this is a different team with a unique chemistry that’ll stare down those demons this week. A streak of eight straight wins has the Tide hotter than anyone in the country.
“I really think this is Alabama’s year,” said Jessica Mendoza, an Olympic gold medalist, ESPN commentator, and Stanford graduate. “I foresee them in that championship team and it’s going to be against a Pac-12 team, whether it’s Cal or Arizona State. It’s going to be another SEC/Pac-12 faceoff.”
In all, the Pac-12 has 23 national titles including 10 of the last 11. SEC teams reached the finals in three of the last five years before bowing to west coast competition.
But change is in the air.
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