TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The phrase “day-by-day” has been Patrick Murphy’s mantra when addressing the status of starting pitcher Lexi Kilfoyl. Friday, Alabama’s softball season took on a similar timeline as it opened up play in the Tuscaloosa Regional. So what does that mean for the Crimson Tide’s No. 2 option in the circle?
While Murphy's not quite sticking to the company line, he's still not ready to give a definite answer moving forward.
“It's totally up to her, the doctor and the athletic trainer," Murphy said of Kilfoyl following Alabama's 3-0 victory over Chattanooga to open the Tuscaloosa Regional. "If she feels good enough to do it, she'll do it. She pitched this week in practice too, so it's very encouraging to see that."
Kilfoyl, who is battling hip and foot injuries, hasn’t made an appearance for Alabama since an April 23 game where she gave up seven earned runs on five hits over 1⅓ innings in a 9-1 loss to the Aggies. The junior is 9-3 with a 2.36 earned-run average and has 79 strikeouts over 80 innings pitched this season. Four of her wins have come against top-10 opponents.
Redshirt freshman Alex Salter received the start during Alabama's tournament opener against Chattanooga on Friday but gave way to Montana Fouts in the top of the fourth inning after allowing two runners to reach base with one out with the game still scoreless.
Fouts picked up the win, striking out the next two batters to get out of the jam before completing the game with 3⅓ scoreless innings. While the Chattanooga bats mustered just three hits off the Alabama ace, they forced her to throw 54 pitches on a day the Crimson Tide would have preferred to rest her for later in the tournament.
"Obviously, we were hoping not to use Montana, but it's 0-0 and we don't have any hits and they have four. And with first and second, I wasn't going to take that chance," Murphy said of his decision to use Fouts. "It's a good win to start the regional, and we're just hoping to get better every game."
Alabama moves on in the winner’s bracket and will face either No. 2 Stanford or No. 3 Murray State on Saturday at 2 p.m. CT.
Typically, Murphy would have his choice to deploy either Kilfoyl or Fouts for the matchup while saving the other to provide a different look for a potential rematch in the championship series if the Crimson Tide was able to remain unbeaten. If Kilfoyl is unable to go this weekend, the heavy lifting will likely fall to Fouts, who has been the go-to option in recent weeks.
If that's the case, Murphy says he has total confidence in the senior to get the job done.
"She's got plenty of gas left," he said.
Fouts, a member of Team USA, is 23-6 on the year with a 1.89 earned run average. She leads the SEC with 266 strikeouts over 170 innings pitched this season.
"She's really gritty, and I think that's what makes her really dominant as a pitcher," catcher Ally Shipman said of Fouts. "Even if she feels like she's not her best with her stuff that day, she will outwork you and out-grit you, and I think that's what she did today."