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    Inside SEC Softball with Tommy Deas

    One was an infielder, the other an outfielder.

    Last season, they swapped.

    The University of Alabama’s Kayla Braud and Tennessee’s Raven Chavanne made radical position changes last season as sophomores – Braud moving from second base to left field and Chavanne switching from the outfield to third base. They responded by committing just one error each all last season and earning All-America status.

    The two leadoff batters have something of a mutual admiration society. Each appreciates the other’s gifts, and each sees a little of herself in her counterpart at a rival school.

    “I think she’s a great player,” Braud said of Chavanne. “She brings a lot of the same things I do: a lot of speed, short game, really good bat control, the ability to bunt, slap and hit. I think she does a great job for her team as leadoff.”

    Said Chavanne of Braud: “She’s a phenomenal player. She does it all: she bunts, hits and slaps, a real triple threat.”

    Their similarities are reflected in the statistics. Braud batted .436 last season as a sophomore, had a .517 on-base percentage and stole 58 bases. Chavanne, who came to UT from Thousand Oaks, Calif., hit .455 with a .526 on-base percentage and stole 33 bases last season, also as a sophomore.

    The position changes seemed odd when they occurred, but both coaches were sure the players would make their decisions look good.

    “When she came to Tennessee, we had (Jessica) Spigner (at third base) and we put her in the outfield,” Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly said of Chavanne. “When I saw the need to get some more speed there, I moved her to third.

    “We saw it coming a long way off. We had been playing her at third in practice games and lesser non-conference games and in the fall.”

    Weekly needed more speed on the corner to deal with some of the speedy leadoff batters in the SEC – batters like Braud – who are able to drag bunt and slap to get to first base.

    “One thing she does,” the coach said, “is get on the ball pretty quick when it’s dropped.”

    Alabama coach Patrick Murphy was looking for more speed and range in the outfield. He moved Braud, a native of Eugene, Ore., there even though she had been a lifetime infielder.

    “She’s such a good athlete that the transition was pretty easy for her,” Murphy said. “Last year at the end of games I would put in a defensive outfielder for her, a sub, but as the season progressed I was like, ‘Nah, I’ll just leave her out there.’ This year I don’t even think of it.

    “I know she’s worked hard at it. Last year she came extra, stayed late, to really perfect it. I can’t remember the last time she took a bad read.”

    The players have continued to be triple-threat hitters this season.

    Chavanne is carrying a .453 average with a .493 on-base percentage and 11 steals. Braud is batting .425 with a .528 on-base percentage and has stolen 20 bases so far.

    Chavanne and Braud have so much in common that they can’t help but appreciate the skills the other brings.

    “She’s obviously extremely, extremely fast,” Chavanne said of Braud. “She steals a lot of bases, and she’s a smart base runner.”

    Said Braud, “Usually it’s harder (to go) from the outfield to go to the infield. There’s not many outfielders that can do that, but she’s done it really well. She’s made that adjustment.”
     
    Stat of the week: Tennessee ended Alabama's 26-game winning streak -- a streak that dated to the start of the 2012 season -- on Wednesday night in the second game of a doubleheader in Tuscaloosa. The Lady Vols have ended a number of noteworthy streaks in the past three seasons: a 10-game Florida winning streak earlier this month, LSU's 11-game winning streak last April, a 13-game Alabama winning streak last March, Georgia's 37-game home winning streak (which had spanned the end of the 2010 season and the start of 2011) and Michigan's 36-game home winning streak in the 2012 NCAA Super Regional in Ann Arbor.

    Other interesting stats: It took until the 19th inning of last weekend, but South Carolina hit just the second home run of the year off Florida's Hannah Rogers in the final inning of the three-game series. Evan Childs hit her ninth homer of the season. Florida pitching has given up only two home runs in 2012. ... Mississippi State started the season 5-0 in true road games, the longest streak of winning games on opponents' home fields since MSU won eight in a row in 2001. The streak ended with last Friday's 10-7 loss at LSU. ... Georgia's Kristyn Sandberg has not only been hitting the ball well, but doing so in clutch situations -- she's batting .452 with runners on base, .409 with runners in scoring position and .667 with the bases loaded. The senior is hitting .500 with two outs, and an astounding .750 with a runner at third and two outs. ... Kentucky's Brittany Cervantes became Kentucky's all-time home run queen with her 37th homer, a game-winner last weekend against North Carolina State. The solo shot moved her into first place on UK's all-time RBI list with 137. ... Arkansas' 4-1 win over Tennessee, ranked ninth at the time, was the first for Arkansas over Tennessee in softball since 2008 -- when Tennessee entered the game ranked No. 8.

    Tommy Deas is executive sports editor of The Tuscaloosa News and has covered SEC softball since 1997