To win championship, Crimson Tide softball must improve defense

What is it about the University of Alabama and defense?

Head football coach Nick Saban is known for being a great defensive coach and recruiter. Men’s basketball head coach Anthony Grant knows nothing but defense. Now, defense is all softball head coach Patrick Murphy wants to talk about.

For Saban, defense has won him two national championships in three years. Barring a horrific snub, Grant’s team will make its first NCAA tournament appearance under his leadership thanks to nothing but phenomenal defense.

For Murphy, if he is not careful, defense will cost him a national championship.

Defense is the only thing holding the 2012 softball team back from being perfect. In the circle, Jackie Traina has an ERA of 1.04 and a perfect 10-0 record while striking out 80 batters.

The four other players that have appeared in the circle for the Crimson Tide (Amanda Locke, Jadyn Spencer, Leslie Jury and Lauren Sewell) have a combined 1.12 ERA and a 7-0 record amongst them.

To back up downright scary pitching, the Tide can get solid hitting from every player on the roster. The seniors are leading the team both in the dugout and on the stat sheet, with four of the six seniors batting over .359 and sporting on-base percentages of over .442, with the high point being Cassie Reilly-Boccia’s .574.

This trend continues as the juniors and sophomores combine to bat .368 up to this point in the season as well as having two freshmen, Danae Hays and Danielle Richard, batting over .300. Even Ryan Iamurri, standing at an intimidating 4 feet 10 inches tall, has an inside-the-park-home run already.

But, defense wins championships. Right, Oklahoma State football?

In the first two games of the Easton Alabama Invite alone, Alabama committed four errors, some of which Murphy described as silly.

All in all, errors are part of the game and are unavoidable in softball, and right now, they aren’t hurting the team. After all, the Tide has outscored its opponents by a combined 141-34 thus far.

But the error problem has paved the way for a few close calls. In the SEC/ACC/Big XII Challenge, by far the toughest stretch of games Alabama has endured yet, they Tide had to get three runs in the top of the seventh inning to beat then-No. 20 Georgia Tech 12-9 after committing two errors in that game.

The Tide’s other nail-biter in that tournament, a 3-1 thriller with then-No. 15 Oklahoma State, could have been more one-sided had the Tide not committed an error.

When the competition gets better as Alabama begins Southeastern Conference play in three days, the teams it will be facing are simply too good to lose when the other team commits errors like Alabama does.

The SEC has four teams in the most recent top-25 poll, not including the No. 1 Tide, with Florida at No. 3, Georgia at No. 7, Tennessee at No. 9 and Auburn at No. 19. I did not count Missouri and Texas A&M, who are both in the top 25 and will play SEC softball in 2013.

When two of the top three teams in the country meet for a weekend series in Tuscaloosa, don’t be surprised if an error on either side decides one or maybe even two games. The question is: Will Alabama right the ship and wait for Florida to commit that error, or will they fall flat on the biggest regular season stage in collegiate softball?