The metaphorical dust still hasn't settled from Alabama softball's season. The physical dirt from the Rhoads Stadium field might still be in a few cleats and on a few bags too after the Crimson Tide's early exit from the NCAA Tournament at the hands of the Stanford Cardinal in the Tuscaloosa Regional.
The 2022 Alabama softball team had exciting moments with multiple top-10 wins, a perfect game, no-hitter, comebacks and walk-offs. Team 26 was also responsible for some not as positive firsts like the first team since 1999 to not win a game at the SEC Tournament, and the first to not make the Super Regionals since the format change in 2005. Even though it had flashes of brilliance, the offense became ice cold by the end of the season which ultimately lead to the elimination from the tournament.
"I think our team defense was the best it’s been in years," said Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy. "The pitching staff up and down was good. And I think our hitters are gonna get better as they get older, because they have to experience the crud to look to the good stuff."
While things seem to just be raring up for a wild offseason in Tuscaloosa, it's time to look back at what went right and what went wrong in the 2022 season.
Alabama came out with scorching bats, literally. The Crimson Tide opened the season out in the dessert at the Candrea Classic in Arizona. On opening weekend the Crimson Tide hit 10 home runs and scored 37 runs over the four games with two run-rule victories.
Murphy dislikes the word expectations and all that may come with it, but Alabama was living up to its preseason expectations as a top-two team in the country with a talented roster led by two of the best pitchers in the country.
Once the bats left the heat and dry air of the dessert, the balls stayed in the yard a little more, but Alabama still had eight run-rule games in the 20-0 start to the season.
The offense showed it was more than capable of backing aces Montana Fouts and Lexi Kilfoyl in providing run support. And both pitchers proved they could go toe to toe with some of the best aces around the country with wins over Virginia Tech's Keely Rochard and Emma Lemley at the Easton Bama Bash in February in back to back pitchers duels. The Hokies would go on to win the ACC regular season title and earn the No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Another highlight of the non-conference schedule was the Crimson Tide picking up six wins across four days at the Mardi Gras Mambo in Louisiana. Through the first four weeks of the season, Alabama was consistently ranked No. 2 behind only Oklahoma in the polls.
After the 20-0 start in non-conference play, Alabama got a bit of a punch in the mouth when SEC play started with a series at LSU. Not only did the Tigers hand Alabama its first loss, but they also took the series from the Crimson Tide.
Alabama lost a tough midweek game against then No. 3 Florida State 6-5. The Crimson Tide then bounced back with series wins in its next five SEC series including sweeps over South Carolina and Mississippi State.
With that type of consistency in the toughest conference in college softball, Alabama stayed in the top five of all the national polls during this stretch.
Fouts was giving up more runs than she was used to in her Alabama career, but the offense was still putting up big enough numbers to win series weekend after weekend. With her perfect game against Georgia on April 4 and eight-inning, one-run performance against Florida on April 10, Kilfoyl was showing she could become the Friday/Sunday starter if Fouts continued to struggle in SEC play.
The Crimson Tide came away with a big road series win at Florida and still stood in good position to win the SEC regular season title and earn a high national seed in the postseason. The offense started to show signs of a struggle against Mississippi State at home, but had an impressive comeback in game two of the series to erase a five-run deficit over the final two innings capped by a Megan Bloodwork walk-off hit.
From March 11 (start of SEC play) to April 19 (doubleheader against North Alabama and Alcorn State), Alabama went 18-6 and averaged 5.3 runs per game on offense. In the circle, Fouts was starting to find her groove with all three wins in the Mississippi State series, while only allowing one earned run all weekend. Redshirt freshman pitcher Alex Salter was getting in on the action with her first no-hitter against Alabama State on March 29, and Kilfoyl made a return from injury to pitch in the April 19 doubleheader.
Heading into the final series of April, Alabama was 38-6 overall and 13-5 in the SEC with great positioning right behind Arkansas to compete for the regular season crown.
The way Alabama's schedule was set up, the final two SEC series of the year would have a bye weekend sandwiched in between with a midweek road trip to Western Kentucky. The final seven games on the regular season schedule were all winnable.
First up was a series at SEC bottom-dweller Texas A&M. Instead of sweeping the series, Alabama lost a conference series for the first time since opening weekend against LSU. In game two , Alabama got run-ruled 9-1 for the first time, but bounced back to take game three to salvage a game on the weekend. The run-rule loss ended up being the last time Kilfoyl pitched on the season.
Things got worse for the midweek matchup at Western Kentucky where the Hilltoppers jumped on the board with three runs in the first inning, and the Alabama offense was shut out through the first six innings, eventually losing 3-1. Instead of acting like they had something to prove after losing the series at A&M, the offense sputtered against a much less talented mid-major team.
The bye weekend came at a much-needed time after the losses, plus some travel snafus for the trips to Texas and Kentucky. However, coming out of the bye, things weren't much better for the offense. Alabama lost the series opener to Missouri at home. Team 26 responded to win the next two to take the series, but the offense struggled to string together consecutive hits or collect hits with runners in scoring position.
Team 26 went on to be the first team in Patrick Murphy's tenure to lose its opening game at the SEC Tournament when Fouts had to face that Tiger team for the fourth time in a row, and the offense got shutout for the first time.
Even though the team was excited heading into the postseason, the end of the regular season was a sign of what was to come in postseason for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama opened regional play with a win over Chattanooga, but got shut out by Stanford on Saturday morning which forced the Crimson Tide to the loser's bracket in Regionals for the first time since 2007.
And Team 26 did fight all the way out of the loser's bracket to force a winner take all regional championship game, but Fouts ran out of gas after throwing more than 400 pitches on the weekend, and the offense was shut out for the second time in as many days.
Over the final 13 games of the season, Alabama went 6-7, scoring just 2.4 runs per game including the three shutouts. This resulted in the season-ending loss to Stanford which kept Alabama out of the Super Regional round for the first time ever.
During this stretch, Ashley Prange was the only consistent bat in the lineup and multiple players were going through extended slumps at the plate. Overall on the season, Prange and fellow transfer Ally Shipman led the team in average, hits, doubles and were tied for second with eight home runs. Shipman was the team leader with 46 RBIs, but only had three total over the last 16 games of the season.
Alabama finished the season with a 44-13 record, and is in an extremely unusual position for the program. For the last 17 years, the Crimson Tide has still been playing into the last weekend of May with many year bleeding over into June at the Women's College World Series. Murphy called it a weird feeling to be done this early, but said his team will use it as motivation moving forward.
"I'm excited about the future because we have a bunch of people coming back, and we have three really good freshmen coming," Murphy said.