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2020 Alabama Softball Preview: Keeping the Rat Poison at Bay

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Unlike last season, there are high expectations for the Crimson Tide Team24.

@AlabamaSB

At this point a year ago, there were not too many college softball followers who gave the Crimson Tide softball team much of a chance of doing much more than maybe perhaps eking their way into a Super-regional if they were lucky. Before the season began, the Southeastern Conference coaches picked Alabama to finish eighth in the league. The national polls had the Tide lingering down in the teens. There was very little belief around the country that this team would be among the Final 4 come time for the Women’s College World Series in June. But there they were. Team23 turned that lack of respect into incentive and made a historic run to a 60-10 season, a SEC Championship, and the aforementioned Final 4.

Team24 will not have that luxury this season. Among the four preseason polls, the Tide is ranked either 1 or 2. The SEC coaches are not foolish enough to make the same mistake twice. They overwhelmingly voted crimson and white as tops in the conference.

D1Softball.com #1
ESPN.com/USA Softball #1
SOFTBALL AMERICA #2
USA Today/NFCA Coaches #2

[Washington is the other #1/#2 team in each poll.]

There is good reason to be high on the 24th version of Crimson Tide softball. Alabama returns 13 players from its 2019 team, including the team’s top three pitchers and most of their offensive production. The great thing about softball is that juniors won’t be leaving early for a professional league!

OUTFIELD

DEPARTING

  • LF Merris Schroeder - graduated, started 68 of 70 games last season in left.
  • OF Kloyee Anderson - transfer portal.

RETURNING STARTERS

  • CF Elissa Brown, SR - After Tide legend Haylie McCleney, Brown might just be the best defensive outfielder to ever roam the green grass of Rhoads Stadium. At the plate, she was good enough to hit .328 and score 50 runs last season. She also stole 48 of 54 bases which was tops among players on Power 5 teams. She is the straw that stirs this drink.
  • RF KB Sides, JR - Hit .304 in 2019 but had an on-base of only .365. She had a team high 224 at bats of which only 21 resulted in walks. She was, however, second on the team in doubles (10) and stolen bases (22-24).
  • OF* Kaylee Tow, JR - Due to a nagging shoulder injury, she was limited in the outfield and often played first or was the designated player. Fortunately her shoulder did not slow her at the plate. She hit .309 with 10 HR, 62 RBI, a .553 slugging %, .484 OBP. She was named NFCA Second Team All-American for a second year.

RETURNING RESERVES

  • Kayla Davis, SOPH - 3 hits in 16 at bats.

NEWBIES

  • Alexis Mack, GS - This Oregon grad transfer led the Ducks in stolen bases. She can also play the infield. Played her freshman year at South Carolina. Two-time All-Pac 12 in 2017-2018. Sat out the 2019 season.
  • Jenna Johnson, FR - FloSoftball’s Hot 100, two-time all-state (TN) and defensive player of the year honoree.
  • Mary Greg Anderson, FR - Two-time All-State player from Athens, AL.

SYNOPSIS

  • Mack looks like the leading candidate to take over left field. Bama coach Patrick Murphy has challenged both Brown and Mack to eclipse 50 stolen bases each in 2020. Johnson should press for playing time.

INFIELD

DEPARTED/SIDELINED

  • Senior shortstop Claire Jenkins tore her ACL and will be out for the season.

RETURNING STARTERS

  • 2B Skylar Wallace, SOPH - An All-SEC Freshman, Wallace has a chance to be a breakout star in 2020. She had a .295 BA, the third highest OPS (on-base % plus slugging %) on the team of .911, and was perfect on 18 stolen base attempts.
  • 3B Maddie Morgan, JR - Hit only .275 but, boy, did she flash the leather at the hot corner all season long. She is the Herbert Jones of the softball team, taking first base 11 times due to hit-by-pitch.
  • 1B Bailey Hemphill, SR - Somehow, she only made it to Second Team All-American despite a career season of .375 BA, 26 HR (2nd in the nation), 84 RBI (No. 1 in the nation) and an astronomical OPS of 1.352. The next closest Power 5 player had 72 RBI. Hemphill was pretty darn good on defense as well.
  • 1B Kaylee Tow, JR - See OUTFIELD section above.

RETURNING RESERVES

  • IF Taylor Clark, SR - Transferred from Virginia Tech last season but could not crack the stacked starting lineup. She appeared in 32 games, including seven starts, playing mostly at third base and occasionally at second.
  • IF Kyra Lockhart, RS SO - Kyra went down with a patella and ankle injury in last season’s opening weekend and was granted a redshirt. In her limited plate appearances, she has shown she can handle a bat and should find playing time.

NEWBIE

  • IF Savannah Woodard, FR - The Warrior, AL native was 2019 5A Player of the Year. She can play almost every position outside of pitcher.

SYNOPSIS

With returning shortstop Jenkins out for the season, Skylar Wallace will likely slide over to that spot. Clark and/or Mack could take over second. KB Sides could move in from the outfield if needed. Woodard is a darkhorse candidate.

First base could be split between Kaylee Tow and Bailey Hemphill, though the latter might see more time behind the plate. See the CATCHER section below.

CATCHER

DEPARTING

  • Reagan Dykes - Appearing in 66 games, including 62 starts last season, she was the heart and leader of this team. She will be tough to replace.

RETURNING

  • Bailey Hemphill, SR - Caught around 10-12 games this past season.

NEWBIE

  • Karla Hice. FR - A good defensive catcher.

SYNOPSIS

Recruited as a catcher out of high school, Hemphill has been a spot catcher for the Tide over the last three seasons. Mostly she has been stationed at first base. Just a freshman, it is doubtful that Hice is ready to swing a bat at this level. I get the feeling the senior will get the bulk of the work behind the plate and be relieved late in garbage time by Hice.

PITCHING

DEPARTING

  • Courtney Gettins - graduated.
  • Madison Preston - transferred to Arizona State.

RETURNING

  • Montana Fouts, SOPH (21-6, 193 strikeouts, 1.39 ERA) SEC Freshman of the Year, second team NFCA All-American, US Olympic team invitee.
  • Sarah Cornell, SR (22-1, 88 strikeouts, 2.50 ERA) SEC Pitcher of the Year.
  • Krystal Goodman, SR (11-1, 71 strikeouts, 1.63 ERA).

NEWBIE

  • Lexi Kilfoyl, FR (14-1, 0.48 ERA, 134 strikeouts in only 73 innings) A two-time Florida Gatorade Player of the Year, the freshman sensation was ranked as a top ten player in the nation out of high school.

SNYPOSIS

OMG, it’s an embarrassment of riches in the circle for the Crimson Tide. Fouts is the ace but Cornell is right there with her. Goodman is tough as any of them. Add Kilfoyl to that mix and you have the best pitching staff in Women’s College Softball.

DESIGNATED PLAYER

In softball, a DP is basically the same as a designated hitter but with a few different rules.

Kaylee Tow was the main DP in 2019. Depending how things shake out in the field, she could return to the outfield. That would mean KB Sides or Alexis Mack would be the likeliest player to DP or there could be some kind of rotation.

Patrick Murphy has mentioned that Lexi Kilfoyl could also hit for Alabama. As a high school senior, she batted .563 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs to led her team to a state championship. With two seniors and a sophomore on the pitching staff, Kilfoyl will be eased into pitching. Meanwhile, we may see her taking some cuts as the designated player.

RHOADS

Bryant-Denny is not the only Alabama facility getting upgrades. The below Tweet is from November:

And these from this week:

Seriously, y’all. Rhoads rivals many baseball minor league parks and probably draws more.

SCHEDULE

Last season, some observers criticized Alabama for their “soft” schedule. They will not be able to make the same claim this year.

The Crimson Tide starts the season on February 7 in a tournament in Tallahassee, FL where they will play two games each against North Carolina and 2018 WCWS champs #8 FSU over the inaugural weekend.

This is followed up with a 5-game tournament appearance in Clearwater FL where they will face co-#1/2 Washington, defending WCWS champs #4 UCLA, #12 Oklahoma State, USF and Liberty.

Also among the non-SEC slate will be two games each against #5 Arizona, #7 Texas, and one versus #10 Louisiana-Lafayette. And then there is the SEC...

ONCE IN A LIFETIME

In preperation for the Olympics, Haylie McCleney and the U.S. National Team will travel to Rhoads Stadium for a rare exhibition game against the Tide on March 31.