2023 Gulf South Softball Championship

UAH Softball, West Alabama Duel For GSC Championship Title

UAH Softball, West Alabama Duel For GSC Championship Title

The Gulf South Conference Softball Championship title game, which will close out a furious four days on the Choccolocco Park diamond in Oxford, Alabama.

May 6, 2023 by Briar Napier
UAH Softball, West Alabama Duel For GSC Championship Title

The Gulf South Conference Softball Championship title game, which will close out a furious four days on the Choccolocco Park diamond in Oxford, Alabama, is going to have a lot of Alabama flair to it that goes beyond just the matchup’s location.

Alabama Huntsville—one of the most consistent softball programs in all of NCAA Division II—will meet in-state adversary West Alabama, a team that hasn’t won a GSC Championship since before most of its players were likely born, in a winner-take-all clash Saturday to decide which program will earn the league’s automatic bid to the D-II NCAA Tournament later in the month. 

The Chargers haven’t lost a game to the Tigers in nine tries dating to 2019, but they also haven’t yet played a rejuvenated, red-hot Tigers squad in 2023 that’s having its best season in 13 years. No matter what happens in the southern sun, however, the GSC—and Alabama—will be represented well when the best of the best of D-II softball duke it out.

Here’s a look ahead at the GSC Championship game, which will be streamed live on FloSoftball on Saturday afternoon.

How They Got Here

Somewhat surprisingly, considering that Alabama-Huntsville is such a common mainstay in the NCAA Tournament, the Chargers haven’t captured a GSC Championship title in 15 years. They’re now a game away from breaking that streak. Top-seeded UAH has rolled through its opponents in the tourney to this point, beating West Florida 10-2 in each teams’ Wednesday opener and Mississippi College 13-2 on Friday to seal a spot in the title matchup, but Auburn Montgomery—the tournament’s two-time reigning and defending champion entering week—gave the Chargers a scare on Thursday by forcing them to surge back from a 3-1 deficit in the bottom of the sixth inning. A critical one-out, two-RBI single from Gracie Green in the frame gave UAH the lead, and with freshman dynamo Katie Bracken (17-1) on the mound for the final 3⅓ innings, kept it even as the Warhawks got the tying run to second and the winning run to first base with one out. 

UAH’s opening meeting with West Alabama to decide the GSC’s postseason representative will actually be their first of the season against an in-state rival despite the fact that the two schools are only separated by about a 3-hour drive. The Tigers—who'll be chomping at the bit to get a crack at the league’s regular-season champs—will be arguably the most dangerous opponent that the Chargers have faced all week. UWA’s ongoing nine-game win streak has seen it cross the 40-win mark and blast its way up the conference’s totem pole, first by nabbing a No. 3 seed before the regular-season’s end, then by way of a berth to the league tourney’s championship clash. 

UWA took care of business in its opener against Montevallo then squeaked by Mississippi College on Thursday by quieting the Choctaws’ lethal bats in a 4-2 win, finally moving onto the final by dispatching UAM in a 9-6 victory Friday night. 

What’s At Stake

Holding the longest active NCAA tourney streak in D-II softball, UAH looks near-certain to make it 20 straight regional appearances as the Chargers were ranked No. 4 in the NCAA’s most recently-updated Regional Rankings (through games completed on or before April 30) and haven’t been beaten since, putting them in good position to extend their postseason and add yet another accolade to the massive list of them that GSC Hall of Fame coach Les Stuedeman has acquired over the years. 

As for UWA, it’s a bit of a different story. The Tigers were slotted in at No. 8 in the same rankings, meaning that if the season had ended right then and there, West Alabama—which hasn’t made the NCAA tourney since 2013—would’ve been the final team to qualify for the South Regional and one of five GSC teams in all to make it along with UAH, Mississippi College, Valdosta State and Auburn Montgomery. 

Clearly not satisfied with only just narrowly being on the right side of the bubble, the Tigers’ recent tear in beating two of those ranked teams in this week alone has certainly improved their standing and given them a shot at a bonus to the year—winning the program’s first GSC Championship since 1997. A powerful UAH squad stands in the way of that, but the bright side for UWA is that even if the Chargers pull through and grab the GSC’s automatic bid, it appears as if the Tigers are (for now) in business to earn a ticket to the South Regional, anyway. And once they’re there, it’s possible that UWA and UAH will square off again in one or more high-stakes matchups, too. 

Players to Watch

West Alabama: LP Trammel, INF, Sr.

Plenty of Tigers deserve their flowers for their standout performances throughout the season, such as GSC Freshman of the Year/home run leader Ann Marie Strawbridge and joint-GSC wins leader Madison Wright. But Trammell, a shortstop from Mississippi, has been vitally important in bringing UWA to the brink of history. 

Trammell has driven in runs in all three of the Tigers’ GSC Championship wins, though her back-to-back home runs in the fifth and sixth innings against Auburn Montgomery—both broke ties with the Warhawks and the latter of which got UWA ahead for good—were decisive moments of veteran leadership when the Tigers needed it most. One of six different West Alabama hitters currently batting over .300, Trammell is one of only two in that group that’s a senior, and she and the rest of the program in the decade before her have been waiting a long, long time to hold some hardware.

Alabama-Huntsville: Katie Bracken, P, Fr.

Don’t be fooled by Bracken’s youth: UAH relies on her in the circle like she’s a grizzled veteran. The newly-named GSC Pitcher of the Year and the regular season’s low-ERA hurler across the league, Bracken earned the win in all three of the Chargers’ GSC Championship games leading into the title match, combining for 11⅓ innings of work with three earned runs allowed on eight hits to go along with nine strikeouts across the tourney. 

The in-state standout from nearby Decatur, Alabama, is as consistent as they come, never allowing more than four earned runs in any of her 25 appearances this season while also being the conference’s only pitcher with both an ERA under 2.00 and an opposing batting average allowed of under .200 (at .181 as of Friday night). Only North Georgia, which was ranked No. 1 in the NFCA Division II Top 25 poll at the time and is considered one of the favorites for a national title, has been able to beat Bracken this year, which is about as clear of an indicator as you can get that Bracken is to be feared on the mound