By (Kelly Ward)

OKLAHOMA CITY — The weather was more suited to Michigan than Alabama the last time the two softball teams faced off against each other.

It was Feb. 20, and it was 37 degrees in Tuscaloosa.

The Wolverines shelled the Crimson Tide 8-2 in the first game. The next day, they came back and beat Alabama 4-1.

“They hit the ball better than they’ve ever hit that early in the season against us,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. “And that really impressed me. And they have two very good pitchers. They obviously have one of the best players in the country at second base. But it was a fun series. I know that we are better. I’m sure they’re better, which is kind of scary. But we’re looking forward to playing Michigan again.”

Michigan’s Sierra Romero plays second. She was named the inaugural ESPNW Softball Player of the Year.

When she’s not playing for Michigan, she plays on the national team with Alabama centerfielder Haylie McCleney.

They aren’t the only two who know each other off the field. Murphy and Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins have known each other since 1993, the first time their teams met.

The first time Alabama and Michigan played each other, it was 1997, Murphy was the assistant coach and Michigan beat the Crimson Tide twice in a doubleheader.

“I always say Patrick’s one of the good guys in the game,” Hutchins said. “And I’ve watched him with his student-athletes. And those kids, it’s hard to play Alabama because I like them so much. I like their kids. I like the way they represent the sport.”

Hutchins said after Michigan beat Alabama twice in February senior shortstop Danae Hays came up to her and thanked her, saying it was an honor to play Michigan.

“It’s hard to dislike kids like that,” Hutchins said. “They are just always classy. And that starts at the top. And he teaches respect the game. And they play for the big A on the front of their shirt. And they’re my kind of team.”

Alabama is 6-9 against Michigan. The only time the two teams have faced each other in Oklahoma City was in 2009. Michigan beat Alabama 6-1 in the first game. The most recent postseason matchup between the two teams was in 2012 at the Tuscaloosa Super Regional. Alabama won the first two games to advance to Oklahoma City where the team eventually won it all.

No matter the score of the game Thursday, a mutual respect for each other remains.

“I try to be like her,” Murphy said. “I mean, everybody loves her. She always wins in the cold, in the snow. I’m from Iowa, I respect that. I love her staff. Just really, really good people. And that’s what we try to emulate. We try to do the same thing she’s doing. She’s done it for years.”

No. 6 Alabama (47-13) faces off against No. 3 Michigan (56-6) in the Women’s College World Series on Thursday at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN2.

Source:: The Crimson White Sports