JSU softball: Gamecocks were ready for postseason chance
by Mark Edwards
medwards@annistonstar.com
May 16, 2013 | 3966 views |  0 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jacksonville State outfielder Sara Borders, pitcher Tiffany Harbin and coach Jana McGinnis at Thursday's NCAA regional news conference. (Photo by Mark Edwards/Anniston Star)
Jacksonville State outfielder Sara Borders, pitcher Tiffany Harbin and coach Jana McGinnis at Thursday's NCAA regional news conference. (Photo by Mark Edwards/Anniston Star)
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TUSCALOOSA -- During the worst stretch of the year, Jacksonville State's softball team discovered how good it could be.

It happened during the last three weeks of the regular season. That's when the Gamecocks lost seven of nine games but began putting themselves in the position they occupy now -- a first-round game in the Tuscaloosa Regional on Friday night against Alabama, the defending national champion.

Back then, JSU coach Jana McGinnis could see her team wasn't going to win either of the top two seeds for the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. So, she geared practices and workouts toward being ready for the league tournament and whatever came afterward.

Pitchers came to practice an hour earlier and threw pitch after pitch. The hitters took extra swings in the batting cage. And everybody ran. And ran. And ran.

"We wanted to win and get into the OVC tournament," McGinnis said, "but we started putting our minds toward winning the tournament."

Count her mission accomplished on the final practice before heading to Illinois for the OVC tournament. The pitchers had worked on a drill in which they had to hit a small target pitch after pitch. So, at the end of that last practice, McGinnis said she would reduce the number of sprints the team had to run if any of the pitchers could hit that target 10 times out of 10 attempts.

JSU junior Tiffany Harbin raised her hand and accepted the challenge. She hit all 10.

"I was thinking, 'We're ready for the tournament,'" JSU infielder Sara Borders said.

JSU followed by winning all four OVC tournament games and the championship, with Harbin pitching every inning. That put the Gamecocks (30-25) into the Tuscaloosa Regional as the No. 4 seed. They'll play No. 1-seeded Alabama (42-13) on Friday night at 6 at the Crimson Tide's Rhoads Stadium.

If JSU wins, it will play again Saturday at 1 p.m. against either South Carolina-Upstate or Western Kentucky. If the Gamecocks lose to the Tide, they'll play at 3:30 p.m. Saturday against the USC-Upstate/WKU loser.

Alabama will face a JSU team that used those three weeks working on fundamentals and getting prepared for this moment. The fundamental work apparently paid off, with JSU committing only three errors in the OVC tournament.

"The kids we have, they don't have the numbers we've had sometimes in the past," McGinnis said. "They don't have a lot of home runs. What we do have are the things you can't see. We have the intangibles, which is why we won."

JSU has played Alabama 10 times in its softball history, losing all 10 times. The most recent meeting came April 2 when the Tide took an 11-3 win.

But for Tide coach Patrick Murphy, the way JSU played in that OVC win has given him something to think about.

"They don't beat themselves," Murphy said. "They know how to do it. They just won the Ohio Valley tournament. Plus, they've got the coaching staff that's been to regionals before."

Murphy mentioned two players in particular -- Borders, a first-team all-OVC player, and Harbin.

"Harbin was terrific in the Ohio Valley tournament," Murphy said. "She worries me. She threw every inning and then threw a shutout on the last day in the biggest game.

"Borders is a great hitter. She could play in the SEC."

And it all comes down to that important three-week stretch of work at the end of the regular season.

But what if Harbin hadn't gone 10-for-10 on that last drill? What if she had missed one? Did she think about the stakes as she got closer to 10?

"I wasn't keeping count," she said with a smile. "I tried not to think about it. If I had thought about it, I would've tried too hard. I just didn't think about it."
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