Holcombe led the way for Alabama’s return to postseason

Tue, 05/29/2007 - 1:45pm
By: Kevin Wandra

The Alabama softball team played in its third consecutive NCAA Super Regional last weekend, but saw its season come to an end against Washington in a best-of-three series, 4-3 and 7-5.

Alabama couldn’t have made it back to the postseason without former Fayette County standout Ashley Holcombe, the Crimson Tide’s starting catcher.

Holcombe, a sophomore, is one of the reasons Alabama went 55-10 and reached the Super Regional. Holcombe excelled at the plate, batting .254 with six home runs, 29 RBI, a .351 on-base percentage and a .423 slugging percentage in 56 starts. Plus, she did a stellar job behind the plate, with a .989 fielding percentage, and handled a pitching staff that had a combined 55-10 record and a 1.57 ERA.

Holcombe was at her best in games that mattered most during the regular season, against SEC opponents. She hit .283 with four home runs, 17 RBI, a .384 on-base percentage and a .517 slugging percentage in games against teams within the conference.

Holcombe was a second-team All-SEC selection as a freshman last year, when Alabama reached the World Series. Heading into this season, Alabama coach Pat Murphy heaped praise on Holcombe.

“Ashley has the capabilities to be the best catcher in the SEC for the next three years,” Murphy said. “She has learned the ins and outs of all four pitchers this fall and will do a great job leading the battery in the spring.”

Holcombe garnered numerous accolades at Fayette, including being named a first-team all-state selection in 2002 and 2003 and a second-team all-state selection in 2001. But perhaps her most significant accomplishment at Fayette was helping lead the team to the 2002 Class AAAAA state championship.

Holcombe’s impact at Alabama doesn’t surprise her high school coach, Fayette’s Jill Joiner.

“Ashley knows the game better than anybody I have ever coached; I would even say she knows the game better than a lot of coaches in the sport,” Joiner said. “As a freshman at Alabama, I knew she would show them what skills she has. She’s a student of the game.

"Ashley wants so desperately to be the best. She knows she can do whatever she sets her mind to do. She’s just a quality person.”

Joiner traveled to Tuscaloosa to watch Holcombe and another former Fayette standout, Tennessee Tech pitcher Bonnie Bynum, face each other in the Regionals.

“As soon as I knew they were playing each other, I had to go,” Joiner said. “They are two of the best competitors I have ever coached, and I wasn’t going to miss them playing each other for anything.”

Tennessee Tech won the first game, 4-2. Two days later, after Tennessee had beaten California 3-1 and Alabama had beaten Florida State 6-3 and California 3-1, Tennessee Tech and Alabama played in a best-of-three series.

Alabama won both games, 19-10 and 7-2, and Holcombe delivered a key hit off Bynum, a solo home run in the championship game of the Regionals that helped the Tide advance to the Super Regional in Washington.

“I didn’t expect to hit a home run off Bonnie,” Holcombe said. “It was pretty sweet. She got me every time before I hit that homer off her. I have to give her a lot of credit, she was tough to face.”

Holcombe was on her way back to Georgia for a couple of days at press time. She will return to Tuscaloosa in a few days to attend summer school and start Alabama’s summer conditioning program.

Alabama fell short of winning the national championship this season, but Holcombe is confident she will win one before she graduates. It could happen as early as next season.

"Before I leave, I'm going to win a championship," Holcombe said. "We lose five seniors, but my class is very strong, and the incoming freshman class is very strong, too. We should be really good next season."

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