Alabama will be one of just 16 Division-I programs playing softball next weekend, as the Crimson Tide defeated South Alabama, 3-0, in Sunday’s Tuscaloosa Regional Championship to advance to the program’s NCAA-record 10th straight Super Regional.
Alabama (48-11) is the only program in the country to advance to the Super Regional round every season since the round’s inception in 2005. This season will be the seventh time Alabama has hosted a Super Regional and the sixth time in the last seven years.
Alabama finished the 2014 regular season on a strong note, shutting out Missouri in Saturday’s rubber match to earn the series victory.
Alabama (44-10, 19-5 SEC) capitalized on timely hits and mistakes by the Missouri (41-15, 15-9 SEC) defense, earning the win despite only tallying two runs. Both of the Crimson Tide’s runs were unearned, as Casey Stangel (14-9) took the loss in the circle, throwing 4.1 innings. Leslie Jury (15-6) had a strong outing for Alabama, earning the win with 5.1 innings pitched while Sydney Littlejohn pitched 1.2 relief innings with just one hit allowed to earn her third save of the season.
With runners at the corners and nobody out in the top of the third, Haylie McCleney stole second and nobody on the Missouri defense was out covering the throw to second as the throw rolled into center field, allowing Andrea Hawkins to score from third on the E2 and make it a 1-0 ballgame. The Tide couldn’t maintain the momentum though, as a pair of groundouts and a popout prevented Alabama from adding to its one-run lead.
Hawkins drew a one-out walk in the top of the fifth, advanced all the way to third on a wild pitch and came home on yet another wild pitch as that pushed the Tide lead up to 2-0. The second wild pitch was a ball four to McCleney, who walked to first to end Stangel’s outing in the circle as Tori Finucane entered for the Tigers. Kallie Case followed with a slap single but a double play ended the half-inning with the Tide leading 2-0.
Missouri made a bid for its first run of the game in the bottom of the fifth with a runner on second and two away. Taylor Gadbois sent a single up the middle and the runner at second rounded third and broke for home. McCleney fired in a rocket to home plate from shallow center as Jordan Patterson applied the tag for out number three to preserve the 2-0 lead and end the inning.
The Tigers put a pair of runners into scoring position in the bottom of the sixth off a single and a throwing error, which ended Jury’s start as Littlejohn entered in the save situation. A ground ball to third caught the runner at third in a rundown for out number two and the Tide intentionally walked Angela Randazzo to load the bases. Natalie Fleming hit a high popup back to the pitcher’s circle to strand the bases loaded as Littlejohn pitched out of the jam to maintain Alabama’s 2-0 lead.
Alabama couldn’t add any insurance in the top of the seventh as they took a two-run lead into the final half-inning of regulation. The tying run came to the plate off a one-out single that put runners on first and second. Kaila Hunt made a great play on a ground ball, flipping the backhand on the run to Leona Lafaele at first for out number two, though both runners advanced into scoring position. The Tide intentionally walked Emily Crane to set up a force at any base but it never came into play as Littlejohn struck out Mackenzie Sykes to end the game, earning her third save of the season and securing the series win for Alabama.
Bryce Petty and ninth-ranked Baylor closed out their old stadium with quite a fiesta.
In what became a de facto Big 12 championship game after Oklahoma State’s lost, Petty threw for 287 yards with touchdown passes on the first drives after halftime and the Bears won the their first title in the league with a 30-10 victory over No. 23 Texas on Saturday.
The Bears (11-1, 8-1 Big 12), who never even had a winning record in the Big 12 before coach Art Briles arrived six years ago, have the first 11-win season in school history and are headed to the Fiesta Bowl. That is the reward for their first outright title in any league since winning the Southwest Conference on 1980 when Mike Singletary called Floyd Casey Stadium home.
Antwan Goodley made a nifty one-handed grab on a slant pass for an 11-yard TD, one play after Petty overthrew his wide-open tight end at the goal line. After Texas (8-4, 7-2) went three-and-out, Lache Seastrunk had three consecutive runs for 28 yards and Glasco Martin ran 10 yards to help set up Petty’s 6-yard TD pass to Levi Norwood and a 17-3 lead.
Petty finished 21 of 37, with Goodley catching eight of those for 114 yards. Martin rushed for 102 yards with 18-yard TD run in the fourth quarter, one play after officials wiped out K.J. Morton’s touchdown on a 60-yard interception return when he was penalized for celebrating before getting into the end zone.
About the same time the coin toss was happening at midfield in Waco, No. 18 Oklahoma was wrapping up its 33-24 over No. 6 Oklahoma State (10-2, 7-2), which with convincing victories over both Baylor and Texas last month was in the position to win the Big 12’s guaranteed BCS berth.
Before moving next year into a new $260 million stadium on campus, along busy Interstate 35 and the Brazos River, Baylor had a memorable finish in the final game after 64 seasons at Floyd Casey.
Fans in black, green or gold didn’t even seem to mind the bitter cold – the temperature was 24 degrees at kickoff with the wind chill making it feel much colder. And most stayed around to share in the celebration and a stadium closing ceremony. They were chanting “Big 12 champs! Big 12 champs!” as time ran down and “We Are the Champions” blared loudly over the speakers with fans swarmed on the field.
Las Vegas sportsbooks have not listed Alabama’s football team as an underdog in 1,440 days. That’s 50 games and counting. And come Saturday, No. 51 is well on the way to history.The last time Alabama was an underdog? 1,440 days ago against Florida in the 2009 SEC Championship Game. Alabama’s game against LSU marked the 50th consecutive game it had been pegged as a favorite by the betting experts, a run that dates back to December 6, 2009. Alabama will roll on to No. 51 against Mississippi State on Saturday, a game Alabama is favored in by 24.5 points. The 51st straight game as a favorite will surpass Southern Cal’s 50-game streak of being favored (2003-07) and is the second longest in college football since at least 1985. Since sportsbooks are not in the business of bias, the run – and the rarity of the run – is an accurate gauge for the program’s recent dominance. “Yea, it’s rare. When you have a team as dominant as they are you couple the fact that they play in arguably the toughest division in college football, it makes it even more rare,” said MGM Resorts race and sports vice-president Jay Rood. “You would think at some point here in the last recency, that another team, LSU or whoever, would have been at least a home field favorite. “But when you have a defense as dominant as Saban has developed this defense into, that’s something that’s pretty significant, that’s something that’s pretty important when you’re factoring in a pointspread in college football.” While point spreads have been posted by Las Vegas sportsbooks for decades, definitive records dating before 1985 could not be located. Only Florida State has a longer run; it was labeled a favorite 54 times from 1997-2001. Alabama’s streak began the day after the Crimson Tide knocked off No. 1 Florida as a 5-point underdog in the 2009 SEC Championship Game, meaning the last time Alabama was listed as an underdog, running back T.J. Yeldon was too young for a driver’s license and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was shedding tears on the Georgia Dome turf. The Crimson Tide was listed as a 3-point favorite over Texas in the BCS Championship game, and off the streak went. The Crimson Tide has topped some other notable runs by elite programs. – According to Brian Edwards of BrianEdwardsSports.com, the longest before Saturday, USC, was favored 50 games in a row from Week 2 of the 2003 season until the 2007 Sugar Bowl against Michigan, winning two national titles in that stretch. Including the 50-game streak, USC was favored in 91 of 93 games from 2003 to the middle of the 2010 season. -Florida was favored in 39 straight games from Oct. 20, 2007 until Oct. 2. 2010 at Alabama. The Gators won a national championship in 2008. – Nebraska had a stretch of 54 regular season games as a favorite from 1992-97, but it was a streak broken up by bowl games. Nebraska was an underdog to Florida State twice (1992, 1993) and Miami once (1994) in postseason play. It’s only true streak was 26 games from 1995-97. “This is clearly the most dominant streak,” said Edwards, a longtime sports handicapper. “Alabama has been playing the big boys of the SEC when Les (Miles) has had it going good at LSU, with Florida having good years, this is more dominant than USC’s streak because of competition Alabama has played.” And it’s been dominant in every sense. Alabama has been favored by double digits 37 times during the 50-game streak, outscoring teams 1,864 to 551. And in 90 games as Alabama’s coach, Saban teams have been favored 82 times. Since the start of the 2008 season, Saban’s second year, Alabama has been tapped to win 73 of 77 games. It won’t be stopping in Starkville, Miss. or Atlanta, or any time soon. Rood said that Alabama will be favored by double digits at Auburn, against any potential foe in the SEC Championship game and, as of Wednesday, Rood said he would list Alabama as a 4-or 4.5-point favorite over the nation’s No. 2 team, Florida State, and a 7.5-point favorite over No. 3 Ohio State in January’s BCS Championship. Ironically, if Alabama was favored over FSU in the title game, that would be the 55th straight, besting the Seminoles’ run. “Trust me, I would love to see someone challenge Alabama,” Rood said. “It’s better for business if we don’t have someone quite so dominant. But that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen any time soon.”
It’s Alabama versus the world, at least the college football world.
That’s what happens when you win as much as the Crimson Tide have over the past five years and build a mini-dynasty.
They get sick of you.
And right now, Alabama is making everybody downright nauseous. That is, everybody who doesn’t know the words to “Yea Alabama!” by heart.
Just two days after Oregon was bloodied and beaten by Stanford on the West Coast, No. 1 Alabama showed Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium that it’s still the master of old-school, impose-your-will football with a 38-17 smackdown of No. 13 LSU.
As Alabama coach Nick Saban said himself, it wasn’t perfect. But boy was it effective.
The second half might have been as good a half as the Crimson Tide (9-0, 6-0 SEC) have played all season. A nifty fake punt from their own 41 got them going on their opening possession of the second half, and from there it looked like the Alabama we’ve grown accustomed to seeing during the run of three national championships in the last four years.
“We didn’t play a great first half, but I’ll tell you … we showed a lot of character out there in the second half, controlling the line of scrimmage the way we did,” said Saban, whose club hadn’t been in a close game to open the second half since winning at Texas A&M 49-42 on Sept. 14.
That was part of the knock on this Alabama team coming into Saturday’s game. The Crimson Tide hadn’t played anybody who had a chance of staying on the field with them, much less beating them, in more than a month.
So how good, really, is this team?
We got a much more definitive answer Saturday as T.J. Yeldon and the running game chiseled away at the LSU defense for 129 of their 193 rushing yards after halftime.
A 17-17 tie early in the third quarter gave way to three consecutive long touchdown drives by the Crimson Tide, who with the exception of the fake punt didn’t do much of anything fancy. Yeldon finished with 133 rushing yards, and Alabama’s offensive line reminded LSU’s defense what big-boy football was all about.
Don’t forget about Mr. Big Game, either. Alabama senior quarterback AJ McCarron attempted just 20 passes and missed a couple of throws in the first half he normally makes. But he tossed three touchdown passes and didn’t have any interceptions.
There was a poignant embrace between Saban and McCarron after the game, their smiles as wide as some of the holes Alabama blew open in the LSU defensive front.
“AJ and I have been through a lot,” Saban said. “Some of it, you’ve seen on TV and some of it you haven’t. He’s done a great job for us, and there’s nobody I’ve had an opportunity to coach who’s more into the game and more of a competitor than AJ.
“He did a great job of showing a lot of leadership out there, especially in the second half. We needed our offense to control the tempo of this game, and they did that in the second half. That was really the difference in the game.”
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Saban is never going to be one to savor a win, or even a championship for that matter.
There’s always the next game, the next season, the next challenge.
When it was over Saturday, though, Saban took a mini victory lap around the stadium.
He knows there are several monumental challenges to come before there’s any thought of playing for a third straight national championship. The Iron Bowl matchup with No. 9 Auburn on the Plains to end the regular season looks more daunting by the week, and then there’s potentially the SEC championship game.
But even as the wins mount, the vogue thing to do with this Alabama team is to talk about everything it’s not.
It’s not as talented as the three teams that won national championships under Saban in 2009, 2011 and 2012. It’s not as laden with veteran leadership as some of Saban’s past teams, and it’s not a team that has played a killer schedule.
Matter of fact, Florida State probably gets the nod as the most talented team in the country right now. Stanford might be the most proven, and Baylor the most entertaining.
And, yes, Ohio State hasn’t lost a football game since the end of the 2011 season — 21 in a row.
But the team to beat, like it or not, is still Alabama.
As an adoring nation watched and roared, Andy Murray ended 77 years of frustration at Wimbledon by defeating No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4, on Sunday to become the first British man to win the singles championship since Fred Perry triumphed in 1936.
Murray, ranked No. 2 in the world, rode out a lull in the third set to win his first Wimbledon title and second Grand Slam event. He had previously won the U.S. Open in 2012, beating Djokovic for that honor.
The last British tennis player to win a singles title here was Virginia Wade, in 1977.
Murray, who lost the Wimbledon final to Roger Federer a year ago, was foiled on his first three championship points in the third set Sunday, in keeping with the long games he and Djokovic had played under a broiling sun. The game went to deuce four times before Murray finally
prevailed, setting off roars in the stadium and, undoubtedly, around the country.
When Murray realized that Djokovic’s backhander had gone into the net and that the title was his, he pumped his fists and grinned. He hugged Djokovic, whom he has played against since they were both 11 years old, before kneeling on the grass in relief and exultation, eventually climbing toward the box where his friends and family sat. He began to descend toward the court for the awards ceremony and almost forgot to hug his tearful mother, Judy, but went back to hug her.
“I just heard her screaming behind me and I went back,” he said during an on-court interview.
In a nice moment, TV cameras caught Djokovic’s parents hugging Judy Murray.
Murray said he was simply glad to get through a grueling final game and final point as he held off an attempted comeback by Djokovic. Murray was only beginning to realize the magnitude of his feat in the first few moments after the match.
“It feels slightly different to last year,” Murray said, drawing a laugh from the crowd. “I hope you guys enjoyed it. I tried my best.”
Djokovic, the 2011 Wimbledon champion and a six-time Grand Slam tournament winner, had won his previous three matches against Murray — including at this year’s Australian Open — and each time had rallied after Murray had won the first set. But Murray, though vexed sometimes in the third set, wouldn’t be stopped this time.
“Congratulations to him and to you guys. I know how much this means to the country,” Djokovic said in an on-court interview. “I’m aware of the pressure that he gets…. It’s a great achievement.
“I gave it all. It was an asbolute pleasure and honor to be part of this match, this final.”
The first set took 59 minutes and featured countless long rallies. Murray had three break points in the first game but Djokovic held him off; Murray had four more break points in the third game before finally getting that break for a 2-1 lead.
However, Djokovic broke back and then held for a 3-2 lead. Murray then gained another break, at love, after Djokovic sent a backhand into the net.
Murray double-faulted twice to start the eighth game, which went to deuce four times before Djokovic hit a long forehand and then a forehand into the net to give Murray a 5-3 lead.
Djokovic held his serve, but Murray won his service game at love and cashed in on his first set point when Djokovic sent a return wide.
Djokovic appeared to steady himself in the second set, breaking Murray in the fourth game and building a 4-1 lead. But Murray, pushed by the crowd at every turn, came back to level the set at 4-4 after converting the second of two break points in the eighth game.
Perhaps Djokovic was feeling the effects of his 4-hour, 43-minute, five-set semifinal victory over Juan Martin del Potro on Friday, the longest semifinal in Wimbledon history. He held service to take a 5-4 lead but committed a series of unforced errors that allowed Murray to pull even at 5-5 and then for Murray to break him for a 6-5 lead. The crowd, riding on every move, roared as Murray capitalized on his second break point and gave him a standing ovation when he hit an ace to win the next game at love to win the set, which took 69 minutes to complete.
Djokovic simply seemed to have nothing left as the third set began and Murray won the first two games, but Djokovic found the strength to push back. He won three games in a row to go up, 3-2, with the help of a volley by Murray that dropped just wide and allowed Djokovic to get the break.
Suddenly, Murray seemed to be feeling the pressure and Djokovic gained strength from it. Resorting to more drop shots that seemed to catch Murray wrong-footed, Djokovic broke Murray’s serve again for a 4-2 lead and there was no question that the momentum had drastically shifted toward
Murray halted that momentum by breaking Djokovic’s serve to cut his lead to 4-3. Murray pulled even at 4-4 with a running forehand on game point and then played out a great game to take a 5-4 lead, coming up with a beautiful passing shot to set up break point and winning the game when Djokovic hit a forehand into the net.
Seven-time champion Roger Federer was stunned by 116th-ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky in the second round of Wimbledon on Wednesday, his earliest loss in a Grand Slam tournament in 10 years.
The 27-year-old Ukrainian outplayed Federer on Centre Court, serving and volleying his way to a 6-7 (5), 7-6 (5), 7-5, 7-6 (5) victory that stands out as one of the biggest upsets in Grand Slam history.
The result capped a chaotic day at Wimbledon when seven players were forced out by injuries, and former champion Maria Sharapova fell in the second round to a qualifier.
Federer’s loss ended his record streak of reaching at least the quarterfinals at 36 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments, a run that began at Wimbledon in 2004, shortly after a third-round exit at that year’s French Open.
“It’s very frustrating and very disappointing,” Federer said. “But I’m going to accept it and move forward.”
The owner of a record 17 major championships, Federer hadn’t been beaten in the second round or earlier since a first-round defeat at the 2003 French Open.
Federer’s shocking defeat was his earliest at the All England Club since a first-round loss in 2002 to No. 154-ranked Mario Ancic. Stakhovsky is the lowest-ranked player to beat Federer at any event since then.
Federer said the tournament’s ban of the orange-soled shoes he wore in his first-round win had no effect on Wednesday’s match, CBSSports.com reported.
Wednesday’s defeat came on the same grass court Federer has made his own for nearly a decade.
It ended with Stakhovsky converting on his second match point, a 13-stroke rally that finished with Federer hitting a backhand wide.
Stakhovsky fell onto his back in celebration. He later bowed to the crowd as Federer walked off the court with a quick wave.
Federer managed only one break of serve against Stakhovsky, who broke the Swiss star twice. The Ukrainian piled up 72 winners against 17 unforced errors, while Federer had 56 winners and 13 errors.
“I’m still in disbelief,” Stakhovsky said. “When you play Roger Federer at Wimbledon it’s like you are playing two persons. First you play Roger Federer, then you play his ego, and on the Centre Court of Wimbledon, where he is historical. So that’s like playing two against one.”