TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Patrick Murphy wore the No. 8 when he played high school baseball back in the day in Iowa. Little did he know that number would be huge again for him in 2019.
Before the season, Southeastern Conference coaches picked Alabama to finish eighth in the always-tough league.
Murphy, coaching his 23rd team at Alabama, knew this one was better than that, so he posted a giant number eight on the wall in the team facility.
He was right. If the Crimson Tide finished first.
Then, after winning the regular season crown and finishing second in the SEC Tournament, the NCAA Selection Committee gave what appeared to be a No. 4 or 5 seed an eight.
That qualified UA, albeit barely, to host both an NCAA regional and super regional should it advance, but made the path to the national championship tougher.
The Crimson Tide could have a tougher opponent in the super regional, No. 9 Texas, and if it reaches the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City might have to face the nearby No. 1 Oklahoma.
“It was little surprising considering we had nine top ten wins,” Murphy said of waiting until the final Super Regional eligible seed to hear his team’s name called. “I’m sure it was probably our non-conference ... strength of schedule, but when you take care of business in the conference and win it by four games and lead from start to finish, I thought that would be a little more weight (with the committee).
"But obviously not.”
Murphy added, understandably, that the fact his team beat three teams seeded ahead of his — No. 5 Florida thrice on the road, No. 6 Arizona on the road and No. 7 Minnesota twice in Tuscaloosa — made things tough to swallow when he saw that number eight appear on the big screen.
“We swept LSU at LSU which was three good wins, too, so I’m not sure (what the committee was thinking),” Murphy said. “I thought we had a pretty good resume going. You win the conference by four games and all 13 SEC teams got in again, so it was a really, really good year for here for the SEC.”
And that redundant number eight? It’s now posted on a large poster in the team room at the UA softball facility.
“We’ll just use the same number for motivation,” Murphy noted. “I think our girls are going to be highly motivated as well. They’ve been like that all year long, though. I think they felt (disrespected) from the very beginning.
“I can remember when that poll came out I literally went around the room and said, ‘You know, they don’t think you’re any good. So, we’re not going to talk about it, but what are you going to do about it on the field?’ And they backed it up, and I was really proud of them for that.
“To sweep Florida, sweep LSU, and sweep Georgia, I don’t think we’ve ever done that before, and those are three of the best teams in the country. We’ve earned the top eight seed, which is what we wanted, and we’re going to run with it.”
But should a 2-1 loss in the SEC tournament title tilt make a five-to-eight seed difference? When you swept those same Gators in their house a few weeks earlier? Was the committee affected by a “recency bias?”
“I don’t know,” Murphy said. “Sometimes we feel like they don’t even look at the SEC Tournament. I think the four wins for Florida definitely helped them. Whoever you play in the tournament’s going to be a good win, because you’re playing a team that’s in the NCAA Tournament.
“Four wins in a row is impressive but we won two out of three, and we won five out of six on the road including the three at LSU last weekend. You’ve got to beat somebody or everybody at some point down the stretch, so really it’s no big deal.”
Murphy added his team seems to thrive on the Rodney Dangerfield “No Respect” mantra. “I think they do,” he grinned. “I think (seniors Reagan Dykes, Merris Schroder, Courtney Gettins and Caroline Hardy) bring a competitive energy to the team. Its been fun to watch this year.”
Murphy hopes to keep having fun watching his Team 23 for another month, beginning this week at regionals, next week at super regionals and then the Women's College World Series which extends into a second week for the teams playing for the title.
If all the above happens, Murphy may just have to retire the No. 8.