Dec. 4, 2014
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Alabama opened NCAA Tournament play Thursday with an exciting five-set win over Samford, giving the Crimson Tide its first ever NCAA Tournament victory.
“I’m thrilled to have survived that match,” said Head Coach Ed Allen. “Talking to the team in the locker room after the match, we mentioned that making history is not an easy thing to do. That certainly proved true tonight.”
Alabama (26-7) trailed Samford (20-13) 2-1 heading into the fourth set but the Tide fought back to edge out the Bulldogs in five. Samford was hampered by 20 service errors while Alabama hit a combined .488 in the final two sets to earn the victory.
“I think we did a great job of setting down in a very difficult situation where we clearly weren’t playing well,” said Allen. “A lot of that had to do with Samford and their ability to prepare and come out here and compete. Our girls did a terrific job of rebounding and executing down the stretch.”
Junior setter Sierra Wilson set a new single-season school record for assists, setting 40 assists in the match to give her 1,499 this year, surpassing Brigitte Slack’s previous record total of 1,484 from 2005. Kat Hutson led the offense with 23 kills and a .380 hitting percentage while Brittany Thomas was also in double digits with 11 kills and a .421 hitting percentage. At the net, Bruna Evangelista stuffed a team-leading four blocks while Natalie Murison led the defense with 16 digs.
“It was important for us to focus on what was happening on our side of the net and not worry about what they were doing on their side,” said Hutson when asked about the approach heading into the fourth set. “We knew that if we did everything right on our side that they would make errors. We just had to focus on doing the best that we can do and make every ball better and I think we did that tonight.”
Samford jumped ahead to an early lead in the first set, scoring four unanswered points to build an 11-5 lead as Alabama burned its final timeout. Out of the break, a 6-3 run by the Tide cut the deficit to three points as the Bulldogs took a timeout leading 14-11. Samford widened the gap out of the break however, pulling ahead 20-13 to force Alabama to burn its final timeout. The Bulldogs would pull ahead by nine, 23-14, until three-straight points by Alabama forced Samford to take a timeout with the score now 23-17. An Alabama attack error gave Samford set point and a Bulldog block ended it as Samford won, 25-17.
Alabama jumped ahead to an early 10-5 lead over Samford in the second set, helped largely by three early service aces, as Samford took a timeout. Alabama continued to roll out of the break, scoring four unanswered points to build a 14-5 lead as Samford quickly burned its final timeout. The Tide eventually pushed ahead by double-digits, leading 16-6, and continued on to win the set by the Tide’s widest margin of the season, 25-10, to even the match at 1-1.
The two teams battled back and forth early in the third set, as Alabama held the slim 13-12 lead at the halfway point. Alabama moved ahead by three at the media timeout, 15-12, but Samford would fight back to tie the set at 16-16. The Bulldogs would eventually pull ahead, 21-19, forcing Alabama to take its first timeout. Alabama would fight back within one, trailing 23-22, as Samford took a timeout but the teams would trade points to give the Bulldogs set point, 24-23. After a long rally, an Alabama attack error ended it as Samford earned the narrow 25-23 victory to take a 2-1 match lead.
Tied at 4-4 in the fourth set, Alabama stormed ahead with a 5-0 run capped by back-to-back Krystal Rivers aces to lead 9-4 as Samford took a timeout. Alabama continued to pull ahead, leading by seven points as Samford took its final timeout with the score at 13-6. Alabama kept rolling to a double-digit lead at the 20-point mark, 20-10, and would eventually win 25-12 to force a deciding fifth set.
Tied at 2-2 early in the fifth, a Samford service error and back-to-back kills by Brittany Thomas gave the Tide a 5-2 lead as the Bulldogs took a timeout. Alabama led 8-4 at the mid-set switch and led by five, 10-5, as Samford took its last timeout. The Tide continued its strong play, eventually winning 15-8 to complete the five-set victory.
Alabama will play the winner of tonight’s match between Florida State (28-2) and Jacksonville (19-14) on Friday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. ET / 6 p.m. CT.