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Alabama Softball Needs a Mulligan... and a Morgan and a Doerr

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The 2020 Crimson Tide got off to a rough sloppy ugly beginning. Time for a reboot.

Alabama needs Maddie Morgan’s leadership and glove back.

Team24 got the season started on the wrong foot. First came news that the preseason #1 Crimson Tide team would be in Tallahassee, FL against Florida State and North Carolina without one of their cornerstones. Third base junior Maddie Morgan did not make the trip due to “academic” issues. Her leadership and strong defensive play at the hot corner was sorely missed this weekend as Alabama inexplicably dropped three of the four games.

BAD FIELDING

With the absence of Morgan and senior shortstop Claire Jenkins who is out for the season with an ACL injury, the Tide had to shuffle some positions and struggled in the field. Bama committed nine errors by seven different players over four games, yielding at least one in every game. This stat is magnified considering that two of their three losses were of the one run variety.

FROSH

Freshmen were heavily leaned on in the opening weekend, much more than most expected.

Savannah Woodard started all four games at third base and committed a pair of errors. On the bright side, she collected two doubles and two singles with two runs scored and one RBI.

Pitcher Lexi Kilfoyl looked good in the circle for the most part in Game 1. However, she made two disastrous relief appearances over the weekend that led to two blown saves and two losses. She also batted in the first game but struggled at the plate, going 0 for 3 leaving four runners on base.

Somewhat surprising, Jenna Johnson played left field for all four games. She committed an error, which is not a good sign. Last year’s left fielder, the graduated Merris Schroder, went the whole season without an error. Johnson went 0 for 6 at the plate.

CATCHING

As predicted, Bailey Hemphill took over behind the plate and caught al four games. Freshman Karla Hice did not play. Hemphill was okay - allowing four stolen bases but catching three attempts. This could be an ill-informed assumption, but the wear and tear of catching consecutive games might be a bit much. The Bama All-American looked listless at the plate. The senior only had two singles in ten at bats. If Team 24 wants to achieve big things, they need the bat of Hemphill. The catching duties might be distracting her from that asset.

Fortunately, help may be on the way. News came this week that true freshman catcher Abby Doerr has been cleared to immediately join the team. She graduated high school in December and enrolled for spring classes at the Capstone - much like the early enrollees in football. Doerr was ranked 41st in her class on the Extra Inning Elite 100 list and should be able to contribute to the team right away. It would be nice to get her in there asap and let Hemphill move back to first or even be the designated player for a few games. However, deciding how soon Doerr will be ready is left up to the coaching staff. Which brings me to...

MANAGING

Veteran Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy made some odd subtle moves, and some outright baffling ones this past weekend. Like his signature salt & pepper beard, Murphy’s instincts seemed to have disappeared.

Twice this weekend, he took Montana Fouts out of games only to see the bullpen lose the game. Meanwhile, he let Sarah Cornell get hammered for 8 runs in an embarrassing 8-0 mercy-rule finale. Logic would dictate reversing those strategies for those two pitchers.

Murphy batted Skylar Wallace at the top of the order in three games and second in the fourth contest. The sophomore responded poorly with a pair of singles in 13 at bats. At the other end of the batting lineup was senior Elissa Brown who only got to bat 9 times but produced four hits. Coming off a season in which she led Power 5 players in stolen bases (48) and hit .328, this senior needs to be leading off. Wallace is more like a four or five hitter.

Kaylee Tow (.375, 2 doubles, 3 RBI) was good at the plate yet did not play a single inning in the field. Why she is not playing defense in deference to freshmen is beyond me. Senior Taylor Clark filled in okay at first, but had an error. She hit a double and the team’s first and only home run.

One of the strangest and most damaging moves came in Game 2 with the Tide leading FSU 7-1 in the fifth inning with two outs. For whatever reason, Murphy utilized pitcher Sarah Cornell as a pinch-hitter for Jenna Johnson. Cornell, who had never taken an at bat in a Tide uniform, promptly struck out swinging with a runner on second. Has Murphy gone senile or was this a case of smug rat poison overconfidence thinking the game was over? If you are a smart manager in the other dugout, what do you do with this move? You point out to your team that the other guys are letting their pitchers hit because they have no respect for you and they think this game is won. Can you guess what happened? The Seminoles scored the next seven runs and won the game. Not only did this debacle pump up the ‘Noles, the shocking loss shattered the Tide’s confidence and any momentum they had. That psyche seeped into Saturday and two more losses.

THREE BLIND MICE

Bama got royally screwed in Game 3 against FSU. With the score tied at 7 in the 8th inning, FSU’s batter strikes out with runners on base to end the inning. The batter knew it, The Tide knew it. The announcers knew it. Even the person running the TV graphics could see a clear swing and a miss and a caught ball by the Tide catcher. Everyone except Stevie Wonder behind the plate. He got no help from Ray Charles and Helen Keller in the field. The ‘Noles batter got another swing and promptly swatted a walk off single through the infield.

The ACC Network announcers were noticeably taciturn about the situation and of course dubbed it “a tough call” as a good homer announcer would.

FIX THIS MESS

  • Unless she is skipping or failing her classes this soon into the semester, make Morgan run steps at Bryant-Denny or do push-ups or something. Just get her back in the line-up.
  • I know she is fresh out of high school but get Doerr behind the plate asap.
  • Adjust the lineup to reflect closer to what did so well last year and trust in your upperclassmen.
  • Leave Fouts in games as long as possible.
  • Keep a shorter leash on Cornell.
  • Don’t use Kilfoyl as a reliever this early in her college career. She has probably hasn’t done such a thing in years.
  • I am sorry to say it but Krystal Goodman needs to be on mop-up duty.
  • Learn from Nick Saban and don’t “waste” these early season failures. Use them as motivation and teaching moments.
  • Grow the beard back.

SCHEDULE

The Crimson Tide needs to right this ships asap because the schedule does not get any easier. If it was up to me, the rotation this week would be Kilfoyl, Fouts, Cornell, Fouts, Kilfoyl

St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational (Clearwater, FL)

  • Thurs, Feb. 13: Liberty 8:30am CT
  • Thurs, Feb. 13: #1 Washington 3pm CT, ESPN2
  • Fri, Feb. 14: USF 9:30am CT
  • Fri, Feb. 14: #3 UCLA 3pm CT, ESPNU
  • Sat, Feb. 15: #13 Oklahoma State 9:30am CT, SECN

[All games available on radio: 93.3 FM]