Coming Off 60-Win Season, Alabama Softball Wants Even More in 2020
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — One win away.
That’s how close the University of Alabama softball team came to reaching the championship round of the Women’s College World Series last season. The Crimson Tide had a remarkable year, finishing 60-10 to post just the fourth 60-win season in program history, and advanced for the 12 time to Oklahoma City.
But coming up just one win short …
It’s the kind of thing that can stick with a team, especially among the players returning. Call it what you will, motivation, or the feeling of leaving something unfinished. No one on the Crimson Tide has to even think about what the goals are for the 2020 season. If the players could have started practices the day after being eliminated they would have been back on the field.
“The best thing about last year was that everyone now knows what it took, what it looked like,” Crimson Tide coach Patrick Murphy said. “The togetherness behind a common cause.
“This year we have 14 players who have experience playing in the World Series. We didn’t have any last year.”
When it comes to talent, potential and drive, the Crimson Tide softball team might have the most potential of all the teams on the Alabama campus right now, and yes, that includes football.
Murphy’s Team 24 had an exceptional offseason, both on the field and in terms of recruiting. There’s power. There’s speed. Most importantly, there’s stellar pitching, which everyone knows is almost always the key to challenging for the national title.
About the only thing Alabama doesn’t have is an exceptionally deep roster. There are just 18 players listed, with 15 hitters, and that includes senior shortstop Claire Jenkins, who suffered a torn ACL in her left knee during fall practices and will miss the entire 2020 season.
Otherwise, there’s everything Murphy wants, including right-handed and left-hitting options, plus numerous players who can play different positions.
“I really like that,” he said. “We purposively recruited athletes instead of, say, outfielders.”
In terms of power, look no further than senior Bailey Hemphill and junior Kaylee Tow, who were first and second in team RBIs last season, with 84 and 62, respectively.
Although a lot of Crimson Tide fans thought she was robbed of first-team All-American status, Bailey was subsequently named an Academic All-American for having a 3.99 cumulative GPA as a human development and family studies major.
Incidentally, the RBIs tied the Southeastern Conference single-season record, and her 26 home runs set an Alabama record.
Meanwhile, Tow had a .309 batting average, tied the Alabama single-season record with 66 walks, and was a third-team Academic All-American due to a 4.00 cumulative GPA as a marketing major. She was the NCAA Elite 90 award recipient at the Women’s College World Series, awarded annually to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative GPA among the championship-level field.
Ahead of the them in the batting order figure to be senior outfielder Elissa Brown, who hit .328 and stole 48 bases in 2019, and two-time All-Pac 12 outfielder Alexis Mack, who has joined the Crimson Tide as a transfer from Oregon after sitting out last season.
She led the Ducks with a .424 (72-for-170) batting average in 2017 and topped the league with 28 stolen bases. As a junior in 2018, she hit 369 (66-for-179) with 24 stolen bases and 43 runs scored.
“She’s going to be really special,” Murphy said. “She’s one of the most intense, driven, focused kids I’ve ever seen here. She’s remarkable.
“She could be just as fast as Elissa. She’s definitely going to get the green light. I’m hoping for both of them to have at least 50.”
Yes, he meant 50 stolen bases. Each.
But in addition to having maybe the fastest Crimson Tide team to date, it probably has the best pitching staff as well.
The top three arms last season, all with an ERA under 2.50, have returned.
It begins with sophomore Montana Fouts, who during her first season went 21-6 with a 1.39 ERA, with 19 complete games. She struck out 193 batters in 181.2 innings, and opposing hitters had a .175 batting average.
“She’s really the next Jennie Finch,” Murphy said about maybe the best-known athlete in college softball history. “That’s really a huge role model to look up to, to want to be like. She’s a great role model.”
Senior Sarah Cornell had a 22-1 record to go with a 2.50 ERA, en route to being named the SEC Pitcher of the Year.
Senior Krystal Goodman (11-1) came on strong as the season progressed and finished with a 1.63 ERA.
Joining them is right-handed freshman Lexi Kilfoyl, who like Fouts and infielder Skylar Wallace spent a good part of the summer on the Team USA squad that won the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) U-19 World Cup in Irvine, Calif., and the bronze medal at the International Cup – against a field that included some pro teams.
Despite being fresh out of high school, Kilfoyl started against one of them, the Scrapyard Fastpitch out of Texas. She threw a complete-game victory, allowing just one run allowed on five hits. Plus she can hit.
“She has a really nice swing,” Murphy said. “Fundamentally sound. The ball comes off her bat like it does Bailey’s.
“The four of the them together is going to be really, really fun to see.”
What will be interesting to watch is how Murphy uses his four aces this season, especially considering the Crimson Tide’s schedule.
In addition to facing the usual suspects in the Southeastern Conference, Alabama opens at a Florida Tournament, will subsequently see Washington, reigning national champion UCLA and Oklahoma State at the Elite Invitational in Florida, plus welcomes Arizona as part of the Easton Crimson Classic.
“That’s when you schedule hard, because you have depth,” Murphy said.
Alabama has five games against four teams that made the 2019 Women’s College World Series, 13 games against five teams that played in the NCAA Super Regional round, and 23 games against 11 teams that qualified for the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
It may be the toughest schedule in Crimson Tide softball history, but he and the players know this team can more than handle it.
“It’s going to be packed from the very beginning, but I think that’s what we want,” Tow said. “We’re going to be challenged the whole year and that’s exciting.
“Usually teams schedule in the beginning to warm up. He’s throwing us right into the fire. We take that as a compliment.”
This is the third story in a "What's Next" series on Alabama's winter and spring sports that will appear on BamaCentral this week.