By (Ehsan Kassim)

Home is where the heart is. This has double meaning for junior Reagan Dykes this weekend.

Dykes gets to take her “softball family” to meet her “home family,” as the Alabama softball team heads to Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to play in the Black & Gold Tournament.

Dykes grew up in a small town, Collins, Mississippi, located about 45-minutes away from Hattiesburg. On the way to the tournament, the team will stop at Dykes’ family home for dinner.

“I am excited though because you are able to show your softball family where you grew up,” Dykes said. “I am excited for them to come to my house and see my dogs and eat some good food.”

Another thing her teammates will witness at the Dykes household is chickens – and a lot of them – since Dykes’ father is a chicken farmer.

“We have lots of them,” Dykes said. “We have 16 houses and there are 24,000 in each of them, so a lot.”

Work with the chickens helped Dykes and her two siblings learn important lessons.

“I think it just taught us to just make sure we got our job done and do it at the right time, when our parents asked us to,” Dykes said. “I think it taught us a lot of discipline and respect.”

Though Dykes said her parents come to watch her play all the time since they are close by, she is excited about the prospect of playing in front of grandparents and friends.

She is also excited about the prospect of going home, something she did not initially expect when she started at Alabama.

“I haven’t been home in a while,” she said. “Coming to college I thought I was never going to miss home, but once you’re here, you kind of miss it.”

The last time Alabama played in Hattiesburg, head coach Patrick Murphy said the fans packed the stadium. That was a mid-week game. Murphy expects a similar turnout from Dykes’ friends and family and also the many Alabama fans in the state.

Home is also where Dykes is positioned on baseball diamond, at the catcher position. Murphy believes Dykes has turned into one of the teams most important players.

“She’s got a good arm, she’s a good leader and she’s got really good blocking skills,” Murphy said. “You have eight people looking at you and you get to see all eight. She sees everything that’s going on and she’s starting to hold people accountable. She does a good job with each pitcher. Another thing she is under appreciated with is her blocking skills.”

Pitch framing is something else Dykes prides herself in behind the plate. Last season, Alabama defeated Minnesota in a game in the Tuscaloosa Super Regional that came down to a ball/strike judgement of the umpire, magnifying the importance of pitch framing for Dykes.

“You want to make your pitcher look as good as possible and you want to get those borderline calls for your pitcher, so she doesn’t have to work extra hard and throw those extra pitches,” Dykes said. “Behind the plate we try to do our best, little movement, but we want to get around the ball and make it look good to the umpire.”

As the team’s main catcher, Dykes is tasked with building relationships with the pitchers on the pitching staff. Murphy had Dykes take each of the pitchers out for lunch in order to help build that relationship in the fall.

Dykes did not start in junior Courtney Gettins no-hitter against Lamar, but watching from the bench, she was impressed with her new teammate.

“Courtney’s really something special,” Dykes said. “ I like her a lot. She brings a lot of value to our team from a different aspect as other players. She wants the ball, she’s very gritty and hardworking. I think she was very determined to get up there and do her best, show us what she’s really all about. She really proved herself.”

Alabama is ranked as the No. 9 in the latest USA Today softball poll. It will face two ranked teams this weekend: No. 11-ranked Baylor and No. 24-ranked McNeese State.

Alabama will host Southern Miss. on Friday, McNeese State and Mississippi Valley State on Saturday and wrap up the Black & Gold Tournament against Baylor on Sunday.

“It’ll be four good games for us,” Murphy said. “We’re just looking for great starting pitching, good team defense and the clutch hit.”

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports