Alabama has been blessed over the past years with some very good softball teams but still came up short of the big prize until last year. Last years team was an exceptional team that included lots of leadership from multiple players on the team. When I say leadership, I'm not talking about someone that likes to lead the cheers in the dugout. I'm talking about someone that the other players respect and trust and can go to them with their problems, regardless of whether their problems may be personal or softball related.
Bama started this year off in great fashion and winning was easy for them. They were traveling a lot and playing a very busy schedule, but a very busy schedule can sometimes backfire on you. Traveling and playing in some of the nastiest weather that I've seen in some years can really test your will to play at the top of your game. The bad weather wasn't just on the road games it was at home as well. Somehow I think that some of the players experienced some fatigue from this and their game began to suffer.
About midway through the season I saw a change in Jackie Traina. Jackie had been pitching great and her batting was the icing on the cake for her game performances. But all at once she started to struggle with her pitching, something that she had not experienced in her career at Alabama. Then her batting began to struggle and she lost some games that she would have normally won. This is when the team, as a whole, began to react to Jackie's failures, this was something that they were not used to seeing. Jackie had been pretty much invincible in her career at Bama but was now gettting knocked around as an average pitcher. This is when Bama needed someone on the team to pick up where Jackie had left off and become a hero of sort, someone that could rally the team with a great pitching performance or getting game winning hits in the last inning but none of this happened.
Slowly the team began to come apart at the seams. The conference schedule was much tougher than their non-conference games and every team that Bama played wanted to beat the National Champions. It seemed that when the team would lose it was due to so many mental mistakes, whether it was pitching, hitting, running the bases, or playing defense. They were making mistakes that good teams don't make and they were paying a big price for the mistakes, losing games.
Again I'll go back to what Bama needed to stop this downward spiral, it was leadership. With Jackie Traina being unable to be relied on to win almost every game that she pitched, Bama had no one else who could be that leader that all of the players could depend on to win the big games. She was J-Train, the best player in the country. She could beat you with her bat or her pitching and she was the hero and leader of this team.
I doubt that Bama makes it to a Super Regional this year unless some things happen with this team. They have the players that are fully capable of winning another championship this year, when they play the way they are capable of playing. Can Jackie Traina right this ship, she can if she can pitch the way we all have seen her pitch in the past, but Jackie needs some help from her teammates. They need to become the leader of this team right now to help her get out of this nasty slump. There are some very good players on this team and right now they've got to become more than players, they've got to become those leaders and pick up the slack for their fallen hero and get her going again.
I've got my fingers crossed as the SEC tournament begins this week, just maybe some good things will happen for the team. ROLL TIDE!!