Even Though It Can't Host A Super Regional This Weekend, Alabama Softball In Position To Come Back Even Stronger
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you know anything about Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy, it may be surprising to learn that he isn't already running through potential lineups for next season.
"Not yet," he said.
Murphy has plenty of time for that, plus there are still too many unknown variables. The coach does have a good grasp of his roster, as the program has already announced that all seven seniors are coming back to try and finished what they started during the abbreviated 2020 season, but that's about it.
Everything else that's still unknown. The next items on the program to-do list, summer camps, have been canceled.
With sports beginning to take the first steps toward a possible return due to the coronavirus pandemic the Crimson Tide is scattered. Instead of likely participating in a super regional in the NCAA Tournament this weekend, and trying to secure a spot in the Women's College World Series, the facilities at Rhoads Stadium remain quiet.
"We figured that for some people this is the longest break that they’ll have since they started playing softball, which is a good thing," he said. "They’re all kind of on their own."
Instead, they've been keeping in touch with Zoom meetings, text messages, emails and phone calls. A couple of players still have summer internships lined up, but otherwise the entire team is in wait-and-see mode.
Here's what is known:
• Alabama was 14-8 and ranked between No. 10 and 12 in the major polls when the season was canceled in early March. It had just opened SEC play after playing an extremely challenging opening stretch to the season.
Despite the record, there was a lot of optimism surrounding the team, especially with the pitching beginning to come around. The Crimson Tide was batting .322, while the staff ERA was 2.74 and falling. The previous year Alabama posted a 2.14 mark and had since added Lexi Kilfoyl.
• With the NCAA granting spring-sport athletes another year of eligibility seniors Elissa Brown, Taylor Clark, Sarah Cornell, Krystal Goodman, Bailey Hemphill, Claire Jenkins and graduate transfer Alexis Mack are all set to return.
• Alabama has five commitments for the next recruiting class: Bailey Bowling, St. Joseph, Ill.; Kat Grill, Tuscaloosa; Kyleigh Haney, Douglasville, Ga.; Alex Salter, Fort Myers, Fla.; and Jaala Torrence, Dothan.
Obviously, none of them are playing now, either.
• Freshman catcher Karla Hice retired medically due to a bad shoulder. One walk-on player won’t return. That leaves the expected roster for next season at 23 players.
More on that in a moment.
• While the NCAA has reinstated the year of eligibility for the lost season, it hasn't made a decision on whether there will be a one-year exemption in the scholarship roster limit, a four-year exemption specific to these players or if it'll be permanent.
Under the current rules, the maximum number of scholarship players in the SEC is 22, and the NCAA allows 20 for postseason play. There’s been no word on if those might be expanded next season. Such an adjustment seems likely, but again the details have to be worked out.
Some SEC schools could have 27 or more players on their roster if everyone returns.
• As for the 2022 class, recruiting is often done over years in the sport, and relationships develop over time so Alabama was already targeting certain players. Having more players on the roster might result in Murphy having to narrow his focus.
Alabama is able to offer 12 scholarships (ranging from full ride to 22 percent).
Depth was the Crimson Tide's primary concern during the 2020 season (that and not have an experienced catcher as freshman Abby Doerr was cleared to join the team until after the season began), and only magnified by Jenkins suffering a torn ACL during the fall.
At one point, Cornell, a pitcher, had to pinch-run because Murphy had so few options.
“The very first thing I said on one of our Zoom calls after the season was cancelled and everything was, ‘Next year, it looks like we’re going to have nine freshmen, I think.’ That’s the biggest freshman class that we’ve ever had because everybody gets the year again," Murphy said.
“I said it’s going to be very much similar to me looking out my window at Coleman Coliseum and watching football practice in the preseason in August, and realizing how competitive it must be over there.”
If the roster holds, Alabama will have six pitchers next season.
There will also be an almost even split right down the middle of infielders and outfielders, meaning the Crimson Tide will be at least two deep everywhere instead of having many players backing up numerous positions (although versatility is something Murphy recruits for so the players will do that anyway).
Consequently, he'll be able to have daily scrimmages, similar to what the baseball team does on a regular basis.
“Last year I can remember a couple of practices in which there were three infielders, literally," he said. "You can’t do much with three people because if you go too long they’re going to be hurt, or tired."
In that respect, and in player development, “it’s going to be good for everyone," said the coach who always likes to have lineup options at his disposal.
The question is when that might happen. Murphy has no idea if Alabama will even hold fall practice.
“I hope we have it," he said. "I just don’t know.”