Late last week, Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy mentioned that he thought fans were being too hard on the softball team after a disastrous opening weekend that saw the Tide drop three out of four games. He was right and he was wrong. The correct part is that most of the blame does not lie with the team but with Murphy. He came out to home plate with some screwy lineup cards and made some head-scratching moves from the dugout. He also let this team devour the rat poison of a preseason No. 1 ranking. Team24 must have had so many stars in their eyes over the new clubhouse renovations, ticket sales, and being anointed the top team in the nation before throwing a single pitch that they lost their focus. Their heads were not right last weekend.
The erroneous part of Murphy’s assertion that the fans were too hard on the team was that a little adversity is just what they needed. This team plays better when people doubt them.
With All-SEC outfielder Elissa Brown on the shelf for an indefinite time, the Crimson Tide soldiered on in a competitive tournament in Clearwater, FL.
GAME 1 - Alabama 7 Liberty 1
With true freshman catcher Abby Doerr fresh off an approval for eligibility after graduating early, she made her college debut in a big way, smashing a two-run dinger over the right field wall en route to a 7-1 win. Krystal Goodman (1-0) went seven innings scattering six singles and a double for the win. Skylar Wallace, who was smartly moved down to cleanup hitter, was 2 for 4 with a triple and a stolen base.
GAME 2 - Alabama 8 Washington 0 (5 innings)
The Crimson Tide came to play in the second game of the day with a mercy rule win over the #1 Huskies. Freshman Lexi Kilfoyl was electric in a one-hit shutout with 6 strikeouts. She also collected her first career hit, an RBI triple. Bailey Hemphill hit her first round-tripper of the season - a two-run no-doubter in the third inning. Kaylee Tow was 2 for 3 while scoring three runs. KB Sides was 2 for 2 with a double and two RBI. It was the second straight error-free game for the Tide.
The @kaytow12 three-run homer in the fourth that put @AlabamaSB up 4-1? Yeah, OF COURSE we’ve got the radio call call paired with the video. What a shot!— Out of the Box (@OutoftheBox_Pod) February 14, 2020
Credit: @GriffinTSmith pic.twitter.com/jbHRyIjdlW
GAME 3 - Alabama 9 USF 1 (5 innings)
Bama earned their second straight run-rule victory behind the bats at the top of the order. Leadoff hitter Alexis Mack was 3 for 3 and scored two runs. Batting second, Kaylee Tow connected on a three run bomb in the fourth inning. Sarah Cornell again struggled. Only a highlight reel over-the-fence catch by freshman Jenna Johnson in the first inning saved the senior pitcher from a 3-run deficit before her team even came to the plate. Cornell gave up a solo homer in the second and could not get out of the fifth inning before yielding to Lexi Kilfoyl who struck out the final two batters to secure the W.
GAME 4 - #3 UCLA 7 Alabama 0
Montana Fouts struggled with her control walking four in the first inning. The Bruins scored two runs on only one hit, a wild pitch, and a pass ball. Fouts seemed to settle down retiring the last two batters in the opening frame on a strike out and a ground out. Her teammates did her no favors by quickly going down in order on nine pitches. In the bottom of second, Fouts walked the first batter and beaned the second. Murphy had seen enough and lifted the starter in favor of Kilfoyl but a fielder’s choice and a ground out scored two more. She would go the rest of the way, surrendering six hits and three additional runs including a solo home run. Bruins sophomore Megan Faraimo (W, 4-0) perplexed the Crimson Tide hitters until Savannah Woodard singled with one out in the sixth. Bailey Hemphill would single in the seventh for the only other Alabama hit of the game.
+ Not to make excuses but this was UCLA’s first game played since the previous Sunday.
GAME 5 - Oklahoma State 4 Alabama 1
An ugly low-energy effort by the Tide left them at 3-2 on the weekend. Alabama mustered only three singles and committed two more errors to bring the season total up to 12 boots in nine games. Once again, Fouts got the start in the circle and once again Murphy had little patience with her. This time, it may have not been justified. The sophomore pitched better, surrendering seven hits but only one run through three. In the fourth with the score 1-0, a Cowgirls single was followed by an error by Savannah Woodard. Had it been fielded cleanly, the complexity of the inning would surely have been altered. Another single loaded the bases and Murphy brought out the hook. Kilfoyl got a strikeout, and a ground out that netted an unearned run, and another K to end the threat. The freshman pitcher pitched a smooth fifth and sixth but gave up a solo home run followed by a single and a walk and an eventual fourth run scored on a wild pitch.
This final game was a pivotal one to define the success of the weekend. It was also a good barometer of where this Alabama team is right now. Wins over mid-majors like Liberty and USF are to be expected. Losing to UCLA (9-0) is no condemnation because the Bruins look really good right now. Run-ruling UW (8-1) was really nice - especially since they shutout FSU the next day 7-0. However, falling to Okie State (6-3) basically cancelled out that win over the Huskies. Team24 is not playing high-caliber softball right now. There are too many errors (12), too many surrendered home runs (nine) and there is dearth of timely hitting. Murphy fixed a few things this past week but still continues to pull some head-scratchers.
WANTED: TEAM LEADERS
This team feels leaderless. Hemphill is quiet but she is the straw that stirs this drink. I’d like to see the senior a bit more outgoing. She reminds me of Ross Pierschbacher who started out as a shy quiet kid but turned into a team captain and got to cement his place in the history of Alabama football. Murphy needs to turn Hemphill into this kind of leader. Or is it too late?
Alexis Mack seems to be trying to fill that role but as a grad-transfer, her new teammates may still be getting to know her. It could be Tow or Sides, but somebody needs to light a fire under these ladies. They have an incredible pitching staff and so much of their offense back from last year’s 60-10 team. It is illogical that this team already has five losses and only four wins.
STATS AND STUFF
- Jenna Johnson started all five games in centerfield. She played pretty well in the field but collected only one hit on the weekend - her only one of the season.
- Except for a few innings caught by Hemphill, Abby Doerr was behind the plate. Her home run was her only hit.
- Maddie Morgan was back at third base to give some stability to the infield.
- As mentioned above, Skylar Wallace was moved down to clean-up hitter where she thrived. She led the team with six hits including a triple to bat .400 for the weekend.
- Bama has committed 12 errors by nine different players. That is an average of 1.33 per game. Last season, they averaged 0.79 epg. Their current .947 fielding percentage ranks them at 154th in the nation.
- Bailey Hemphill had three singles and her first homer.
- Kaylee Tow was the most productive accounting for five runs and four RBI.
- Pitching has been subpar. ERAs are through the roof: Lexi Kilfoyl (2.84), Montana Fouts (4.88), Sarah Cornell (6.75), Krystal Goodman (4.00). Only Goodman has not given up a home run. Fouts has a hard luck record of 0-2 but the relievers have let her down. Kilfoyl has looked great as a starter but not so much out of the bullpen. Patrick Murphy seems to be lacking the instincts a manager needs to have to run a successful pitching staff.
- In another WTF Patrick Murphy moment, Sarah Cornell was sent in as a pinch-runner for Maddie Morgan against Okie State. Am I missing something here? Does Cornell have incriminating photos of Murphy locked away in a safe deposit box somewhere?
- In response to last week’s tongue in cheek query “How will the umps screw the Tide this time?” Alexis Mack led off the UCLA game with an extra base hit but was called out for stepping on the batter’s box line. The umpires have been wildly inconsistent in calling this rule thus far on the young season.
Finally back home! Alabama will host the annual Easton Bama Bash.
Feb 21 (Fri) 4 p.m. CT vs Wichita State (5-5)
Feb 21 (Fri) 6 p.m. CT vs Penn State (5-4)
Feb 22 (Sat) 1:30 p.m. CT vs Louisville (2-6)
Feb 22 (Sat) 4 p.m. CT vs Penn State
Feb 23 (Sun) 1:30 p.m. CT vs Louisville
Anything less than a 5-0 sweep will be highly disappointing.