By its own lofty standards, the University of Alabama softball team has had a down year.

At the conclusion of the Southeastern Conference tournament this weekend, the Crimson Tide’s record stood at 33-18, and for the first time in the 22-year history of the softball program, the team did not post a winning record in SEC regular season play, finishing 12-12. In one 12-game stretch in the latter part of the season, Alabama stumbled to a 4-8 record, going 1-2 in four consecutive three-game series against conference opponents.

Before this season, the Crimson Tide had won at least 45 games in all but two campaigns – the program’s first year in 1997, when it finished 29-29, and in 1999, when it went 39-26.

Now for the good news. The season isn’t over.

Alabama learned Sunday night that it would host an NCAA Tournament regional for the 14th year in a row.

This is also the 20th straight year the Crimson Tide has earned an NCAA tourney bid. But making the 64-team tournament field was a foregone conclusion, despite the subpar regular season. Alabama played a schedule that was rated the fourth-toughest in the nation and was No. 15 in the final RPI rankings for 2018.

Certainly that schedule was a factor in the NCAA Division I Softball Committee’s decision to make the Crimson Tide the No. 12 overall seed and name the team a regional host. It didn’t hurt that Alabama seems to have righted the ship. After that lackluster stretch in conference play, the Tide won five games in a row over ranked teams before being ousted by No. 4 Florida in the SEC Tournament in Columbia, Missouri. After a win over then-No. 5 Georgia, Alabama swept three games from then-No. 9 Texas A&M and in the conference tourney opener beat No. 15 Auburn.

“It never gets old,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said upon learning that his team would host yet another regional. “I’m really, really glad that the seniors got to play at home at least one more weekend. I think we earned that down the stretch.”

Murphy took over as head coach of the Tide in 1999, when the NCAA tournament streak began, and has been at the helm ever since. You could count on one hand the college softball programs that have had a run of success that would match Alabama’s during his tenure.

Alabama has won the regional in its previous 13 years as host and has won 34 straight games in regional play. If the Crimson Tide wins this weekend’s Tuscaloosa Regional, it will advance to the super regional round and would be the only team to make it to the super regional every year since 2005, when the format was introduced.

The Crimson Tide has also made it to the Women’s College World Series 11 times, including nine trips to Oklahoma City in the last 13 years, and won it all in 2012. Even though this hasn’t been their best season, perhaps they’ll do it again this year.