The No. 4 University of Alabama softball team will playing its third ranked opponent in as many weeks of Southeastern Conference play, although in paper this will be the hardest one yet.
A much-improved Kentucky program is No. 7 in the USA Today/NFCA coaches poll, and the series will be played in Lexington.
Alabama is 25-2, 5-1 SEC after a 5-0 Wednesday home win against North Alabama. Kentucky comes in at 23-3, 1-2 after 2-1 loss at Western Kentucky on the same day.
“Kentucky’s just having a great year offensively,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. “They keep putting up great numbers year after year. Just a complete team. They’ve got older pitchers.
“It’s tough to play up there because you never know what the weather’s going to be, especially in late March."
Two Crimson Tide players are especially familiar with the weather in the area as senior Kaylee Tow won a state title at North-Hopkins in Madisonville, Ky., and junior pitcher Montana Fouts set numerous state records for East Carter High School in Grayson, Ky.
“It’ll be just like any other SEC battle. It’ll be like an [NCAA] Super Regional," Murphy added. "We’re looking forward to it, especially the Saturday/Sunday/Monday night [schedule]. That’s kind of a cool situation. When the SEC put that together; on the SEC Network it’s ‘Monday Night Softball’ for eight or nine weeks in a row.”
The veteran pitchers Murphy referenced are graduate Autumn Humes (10-2, 1.92 ERA), sophomore Miranda Stoddard (5-0, 2.78) and senior Grace Balman (4-1, 3.05).
Offensively, the ‘Bat Kats,’ as Kentucky fans call then, are fueled by junior catcher Kayla Kowalik, who is hitting a sizzling .489 with five homers and 22 runs batted in. Senior infielder Lauren Johnson is hitting .429, with 25 RBI. Freshman infielder Erin Coffell is hitting .393, with 10 home runs and 32 RBI, and senior infielder Mallory Payton is batting .333 with 31 runs knocked in.
Alabama will be without the services of freshman second baseman Bailey Dowling, who is out for the year after tearing her ACL and MCL this past weekend against Tennessee. Sophomore Savannah Woodard has taken over at second and is hitting .265.
The Crimson Tide is led at the plate by graduate left fielder Alexis Mack, who is batting .431 and has stolen 11 bases in 15 tries.
Power-wise, Kentucky will likely pitch around graduate catcher Bailey Hemphill, who is hitting .386 with five home runs and 22 RBI. She’s walked 17 times already, fueling her on-base percentage of .511. Mack’s is .500.
In the circle, Alabama’s primary SEC weekend pitchers are sophomore Lexi Kilfoyl (10-0, 0.45)_ and Fouts (9-2, 1.18). In 71.1 innings Fouts has 113 strikeouts. Kilfoyl has 69 punch outs in 62 frames.
The first weekly RPI ratings just come out and Alabama was at No. 1. Kentucky was is at No. 28.
Game times this weekend are Saturday at 1 p.m. CT, Sunday at 2:30 and Monday at 6 p.m. The Saturday game will be streamed on SEC Network Plus, while ESPN2 will televise Sunday and the SEC Network Monday night.