ON SPORTS: Sweet home Alabama for Bay City grad
May 22, 2013 at 12:22 a.m.
The bus Andrea Hawkins boarded in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Wednesday was headed to Knoxville, Tenn.
But the destination is only the next chapter in a story that began before Andy and Sherry Hawkins' daughter started school in Bay City and is far from complete.
"I had no idea," Hawkins said. "I mean doors just keep opening left and right. It's crazy. All my hard work is finally paying off.
"I mean, all those times my dad and I were fighting in the garage and going out late and hitting balls - now, it's paying off."
Hawkins will continue her freshman season at the University of Alabama at an NCAA Super Regional softball tournament Friday when the Crimson Tide takes on Southeastern Conference foe Tennessee.
She has already been named to the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team and is coming off a 5 for 5 performance at the Tuscaloosa regional tournament, where she scored three runs, had a RBI and stole a base.
When Alabama's season ends, she'll head to Ohio to join the USA junior national team for its upcoming tournament in Canada.
"I've always been playing with top-notch people," said Hawkins, who, while she was at Bay City, was a member of the Texas Impact Gold team that advanced to Amateur Softball Association nationals four times and placed second in 2012. "I've been around that for four years. Going to college means there is a lot more practicing. The level of play is about the same. But SEC is the real deal. It's just a faster game. The players are a lot smarter, and they know the game."
The biggest adjustment for Hawkins, who is majoring in sports and exercise science at Alabama and hopes to become a physical therapist, has been learning how to balance her academic and athletic commitments.
But she's taken advantage of the personal monitors made available by the school.
"The good thing is they're going to make sure you're OK," she said. "They're going to make sure that you're here at this time and that you get all your work turned in and you don't forget anything. That just kind of sold me because they honestly do care about you."
Hawkins doesn't mind being so far from home and isn't fazed playing for the defending national champions.
Her parents have been frequent visitors, and Alabama coach Patrick Murphy, who called her "one of the most athletic kids we have ever signed," wasted no time getting her on the field.
"Andrea has been an awesome addition to our team this year," Murphy said. "She has come through most often in the biggest games. She hit .600 against our super regional opponent Tennessee in an earlier series and went a perfect 5 for 5 in regionals."
Hawkins has played in 47 games and started 32 in right field. She is third on the team with a .387 average and has been successful on 13 of her 15 stolen base attempts.
Speed is a big part of Hawkins' game. She is a natural left-hander who learned to slap hit at an early age.
"It was just learning bat control and how to place the ball," said Hawkins, who was taught to throw right-handed by her father. "It wasn't as hard as it would have been for a right-hander having to switch over to the other side."
Hawkins has been part of a transition for the entire Alabama team this season.
"We still haven't really found our new identity yet," she said. "Last year was more power ball. This year, we have a lot more speed. We work on small ball, the bunting, the slapping and lots of execution. We have a fairly fast team this year. I think that's what our team is about this year."
Hawkins is all about continuing to grow as a player and a person.
She has no doubt Alabama is the right place to make it happen.
"We have the best fans in the country," she said. "It just gets packed. You have people in the seats ,and we have the brickyard where people bring lawn chairs.
"The fans are wonderful, wonderful. I love it. It makes you feel so special when they say your name and everyone gets up and cheers for you."
Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate. com.