By (Kelly Ward)

Chandler Dare has never played softball in College Station, Texas. The last time Alabama played Texas A&M in Texas, it was 2013, and Dare was still in high school at American Christian Academy in Tuscaloosa.

“We’re really excited to go out there,” Dare said. “We’re always ready for our competition so it should be a fun weekend.”

The last time Alabama played in College Station, it was the defending national champion. During that trip in March 2013, the Crimson Tide dropped the first game before taking the series with two wins. Last year, the two met in Tuscaloosa, and Alabama took two of three games again.

Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012 along with Missouri. Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said those two were big additions to softball in the conference.

“I think softball more than any other sport because at the time, they had played for the national championship and been to super regionals, Missouri had been to the World Series like three or four times, and then you add in two teams, and for us, I thought they were the best two-some of any sport,” Murphy said. “You could look at the basketballs, you could look at football and all the other sports, and one was good, one wasn’t. But these two were immediately RPI boosters like crazy. Good and bad. They added to the RPI but then they added majorly to the competition of the league.”

This time, Alabama comes in with the No. 4 ranking in the country and will face the 16th-ranked Aggies, who were swept at home by No. 15 Tennessee. Texas A&M sits at 16 in the RPI, which is used to determine 
postseason seeding.

There are no off weeks in the SEC. Texas A&M and Missouri’s arrival only bolstered this idea.

“You have a built-in almost advantage playing in this league in terms of RPI and the competition,” Murphy said. “Every weekend’s a super regional without a doubt. You can’t stress over it. You gotta get excited about figuring out a way to beat A&M at A&M, figuring out a way to score runs against [Kentucky pitchers Kelsey] Nunley and [Meagan] Prince. That should get you excited. If it gets you worried or if it looks too daunting, you’re in the wrong league.”

Alabama has help from two finalists for USA Softball Player of the Year. Senior centerfielder Haylie McCleney, who has the best career batting average in program history (.450) and is a three-time All-American and two-time Academic All-American, brings with her the best batting average on the team (.459) and team-leading on-base and slugging percentages.

Junior right-hander Sydney Littlejohn (16-2, 1.47 ERA) was also named to the list. She has yet to lose in conference play (7-0) and received national honors for picking up two wins at No. 1 Florida two weekends ago.

The Crimson Tide (36-7, 8-4 SEC) heads to Texas A&M (31-9, 5-7 SEC) for a three-game series starting Friday at 6:30 p.m. Game two begins Saturday at 3 p.m. The series concludes Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports