It’s never easy to say goodbye.
That’s because it means the end of something.
Seven Alabama softball seniors said goodbye last week after their season and Crimson Tide careers wrapped up in Oklahoma City in the semifinals of the Women’s College World Series.
Their journey came to a painful end, losing two straight games to Florida State. Alabama needed just one win to reach the championship series.
Watching Bailey Hemphill speak to the media following the season-ending loss Monday, the hurt was obvious. The Crimson Tide leader didn’t try to hide the tears as she tried to put into words what her career at Alabama meant to her.
Yes, saying goodbye is tough, but it’s also a time to reflect. You look at these seven seniors - Hemphill, Krystal Goodman, Claire Jenkins, Taylor Clark, Elissa Brown, Alexis Mack and Sarah Cornell – and you have to acknowledge what they accomplished and what they built at Alabama.
“All of them play softball for the love of the game and for the love of their teammates,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said prior to the SEC Tournament, which the Crimson Tide won. "All seven of them have brought the program back to the highest levels in the country. It’s been a pleasure to coach them all.”
This program, which built itself as a championship contender after winning it all in 2012 and reaching the title series in 2014, slipped a bit (by its own high standards) the last few years. Alabama went 0-2 in the WCWS in 2016 and was ousted in the super regionals the two years after that.
This group helped get Alabama back to the WCWS as a true title contender in 2019 and this season, both times coming within a win from the title series.
The latest chapter of the seniors’ journey almost finished incomplete following the cancelation of the 2020 season due to the pandemic. Given the opportunity for an extra year of eligibility, all seven didn’t hesitate. They opted to return and finish what they started.
They came close. And for the last half the season this team was the best in the country, winning 20 straight games that included an SEC Tournament, regional and super regional, along with two WCWS games.
They picked up some accolades along the way. Brown was a three-time second-team All-American and a first-team All-SEC and All-Defensive team selection in 2019.
Cornell was the 2019 SEC Pitcher of the Year and on the SEC All-Defensive team, while Mack was a first-team All-SEC and NFCA First Team All-South Region selection this season.
Of course, Hemphill had the most on-the-field accolades. She was recently named first-team All-American and SEC Player of the Year. She’s was second-team All-American and All-SEC in 2019 and was also on the WCWS All-Tournament team. Hemphill leaves as Alabama’s all-time leader in home runs (64) and walks (233).
“She doesn’t play for the stats or the awards or anything else,” Murphy said. "Bailey just loves to be around her teammates and loves to play the game.”
That was evident as she spoke in Oklahoma City in her final game in a Crimson Tide uniform.
“Wearing this "A" has meant everything to me,” Hemphill said. “This university has given me more than I could ever ask for, and I can't help but get emotional. I don't care about the wins and losses. I came out of here as a better person. I am just forever grateful.”