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'Us Against Everybody': Alabama Softball's Punkman96 Mentality Heading into NCAA Tournament

The slate is wiped clean as the Crimson Tide prepares to host another round of postseason games at Rhoads Stadium.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For Sunday night's selection show, Alabama softball players were wearing black shirts with @Punkman96 emblazoned across the chest. 

Alabama softball 2022 NCAA tournament selection show reaction

According to senior pitcher Montana Fouts, the shirts were given to the players from head coach Patrick Murphy with a special message.

"Basically it’s just a reminder that everybody else's opinions of us doesn't matter," Fouts said. "We’re here together, and it’s us against everybody. All that matters is how we think about ourselves."

The Crimson Tide secured its streak of hosting in the NCAA Tournament to 17 straight seasons with the 6-seed on Sunday night. Alabama will host Stanford, Murray State and Chattanooga in the Tuscaloosa regional beginning Friday. 

For a team and program that consistently remains at the top of college softball, there is constant outside noise, both positive and negative, about the team. With the team struggling some down the final stretch of the regular season, the negative opinions started to come become a little louder. 

Everything in the regular season was important for Team 26 to get to this point, but when the schedule rolls over to the postseason, it's a blank slate according to Murphy.

"It’s totally wiped clean, so you can forgive and forget anything," Murphy said. "We're gonna work hard this week to be the most prepared we've ever been."

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One of the biggest issues during Alabama's 3-5 slump to close out the regular season was the inability to keep innings going on offense. Murphy started to sound like a broken record in postgame and in-game interviews about passing the bat down. Instead, inning after inning, the Crimson Tide would only send three or four runners to the plate culminating in the first shutout of the season in the SEC Tournament loss to Missouri. 

Passing the bat down is something that is hard to replicate in practice, but Murphy said the team had some fun and competitive drills doing just that in Saturday's practice. 

"One of the groups of five got seven hits in a row, which is better than what we've been doing," Murphy said. "But we'll continue to do that this week. is probably a theme that they're probably sick and tired of hearing me say it, but it's something that we have to work on."

The offense average just 2.8 runs and 5.2 hits per game over its last 10 games heading into the NCAA Tournament. 

Senior third basemen Ashley Prange, who is looking forward to playing her first postseason games at Rhoads Stadium as a transfer from Ohio State, has been a bright spot in the Alabama lineup during the offensive slump. She said some of the keys to success at the plate will be in-game adjustments and not taking any pitches off. 

Ashley Prange
Alabama pitcher Montana Fouts (14) chest bumps with Alabama catcher Bailey Hemphill (16) after the Tide defeated Tennessee 6-5 in the SEC Tournament in Rhoads Stadium Friday, May 14, 2021

"I definitely think that the start of every season, I would like to think that's the same mindset as far as like every game, every pitch giving 100 percent," Fouts said. "But we talk about it here at practice, it’s just kind of like an extra gear. Aly [Habetz] did this thing where we raised our hands up, and then she was like, ‘reach as high as you can.' And then now it’s like, raise it higher. So it’s like we always have 40 percent more to give, so I think having that mindset. You know postseason, that’s the best kind of season, so giving that 40 percent more."

With the 6-seed, Alabama is also in line to host Super Regionals if it were to advance out of Regionals. The Crimson Tide is the only team to make it to the Super Regional round in every year of its existence. Alabama is also trying to make it three straight appearances to the WCWS, which begins June 2.