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Alabama Softball Freshmen Step Up

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The Crimson Tide gets four big wins but falters on Sunday.

Focused Jaala Torrence.

With Bailey Hemphill starting to finally hit like her old self and the pitching staff looking ridiculously good, the Crimson Tide appears to be in good shape for the SEC gauntlet that lies ahead. Unexpectedly, several freshmen will be key to the Tide’s success this year.

GAME 1: ALABAMA 9, KENT STATE 1 (6 innings)

Lexi Kilfoyl (7-0) was once again solid, pitching 6 innings for a 2-hit, 7-strikeout win. She did not walk any opposing batters and the one run allowed was unearned. KSU countered with Jessica LeBeau (1-2) who actually pitched a pretty decent game but her defense let her down. The freshman allowed six runs but three were unearned. The Golden Flashes committed two errors and like most Bama opponents were often caught by surprise by the speed and daring of the Tide batters and base runners. They often threw to the wrong base or threw with no urgency which allowed Tide runners to take that extra base.

A gusty wind blowing towards home plate knocked down around three or four batted balls by the Tide that might have ended up souvenirs on any other day. Thus, it was “small ball” that would rule the day. The bunting and base stealing of Alexis Mack and Elissa Brown got things going for the Tide. However, it was a bunt by the least likeliest suspect that broke it open. With runners at the second and third in the third inning and the defense playing back, mad genius Patrick Murphy had Bailey Hemphill lay down a bunt single that threw everyone for a loop. This move was good for the game at hand, but it is also gives future foes something to think about.

Bailey Dowling and Claire Jenkins also had RBI singles in the inning to take a 3-1 lead. Brown and Mack would again set the table in the fourth when Dowling hit one of those on-any-other-day fly balls to right that was mishandled and two unearned runs came across. Hemphill would single in Dowling for the 6-1 advantage.

Another run scored in the fifth on a Brown sac fly. Bama scored two in the sixth without benefit of a hit to end the game in run rule fashion. After walking the bases loaded, Abby Doerr was hit by a pitch for an RBI, and Brown drove in the game-winner on the eighth base-on-balls for the Tide in the game.

GAME 2: ALABAMA 11, KENT STATE 3 (6 innings)

Alabama earned their second run-rule win on the day with Bailey Hemphill hitting a single, double, and triple, and Alexis Mack with a double, triple, and a stolen base.

Maddie Morgan, Kaylee Tow, Taylor Clark, and Kat Grill all had two hits apiece as the Tide racked up 16 hits on 32 at bats.

Krystal Goodman (1-0) was not at her best in her first start of the season. She lasted 4.0 innings yielding three earned runs on seven hits and two walks, but struck out five. Freshman Jaala Torrence pitched the last two shutout innings, whiffing three.

GAME 3: ALABAMA 5, NORTHERN IOWA 3

For the first three innings, the Tide offense was a bit flummoxed with 6’2” UNI pitcher Erica Oler. The Panthers pitcher had been shelled in her three previous outings and sported a 7.00 ERA but was steamrolling her way through the order. That is until she faced Bailey Hemphill a second time. The Tide senior led off the fourth with her second home run of the season and woke the crimson and white dugout out of their slumber.

The Tide would score two more to take a 3-0 lead.

Sarah Cornell got another shot at her Senior Day game. This time last year, the Tide senior was supposed to be celebrated when the Captain Trips shut the world down. On Saturday, the super-senior got her second start of the season and had a no-hitter working through four and two-thirds innings before UNI’s Sammey Bunch ruined Cornell’s big day with a fifth inning moonshot 2-run homer to deep dead center field.

As they have done all season, the Crimson Tide answered scores with scores of their own pushing the lead to 5-2 on some small ball and aggressive baserunning.

Cornell (2-0) would again struggle when the Panthers would push another run across in the sixth to make the score 5-3. Rescue would come in the form of a true freshman sensation. Jaala Torrence entered the game in relief and pitched one and a third innings of perfection, striking out one for the first Crimson Tide save of her fledgling career.

GAME 4: ALABAMA 8, NORTHERN IOWA 0 (5 innings)

Savannah Woodard ended this one in dramatic fashion stroking a two-out grand slam for the walk-off win in the fifth.

The sophomore right fielder was off to a slow start on the 2021 season but heated up in this game going 2-for-3 with 5 RBI and 2 runs scores.

Jaala Torrence got the first start of her career only moments after closing Game 3 with a save and pitched masterfully, striking out three, walking none and allowing just two hits for her first Bama win, first complete game, and first shutout.

Pinch hitter Kayla Lockhart, who has been plagued by injuries during her Alabama career, came up with a memorable hit. Her first career double came in the fourth with two outs and knocked in the third run of the game. Bailey Dowling was 2 for 3 and scored twice.

GAME 5: SOUTH ALABAMA 1, ALABAMA 0

You have to hand it to South Alabama. They scouted Montana Fouts (7-1) and came into this game with a strong strategy of swinging early and often. Through four innings, the Jags had six hits and struck out seven times. It was feast or famine for them at the plate. USA put three singles together in the second frame for the 1-0 lead. Who knew that that would be enough offense to upset the No. 2 Crimson Tide?

The Alabama bats fell woefully flat, being no-hit through four innings before Claire Jenkins hit a double in the fifth. Unfortunately, Jenkins was stranded at second as Dowling, Woodard, and pinch-hitter Lexi Kilfoyl all went down on strikes. Mack singled in the sixth with one out, but was also stranded by Kaylee Tow and Hemphill. Jenkins again singled in seventh but again, Dowling and Woodard could not advance her.

I don’t like blaming umpires but this one had a crazy strike zone which forced the more patient Tide batters to swing at pitches they did not like. After her first at bat ended in a strikeout, Hemphill was very vocal to Murphy as she walked away from the plate. That is not something you see from her that often. Bama hitters struck out six times and had only the three hits mentioned above.

WEEKEND MVPs

  1. Bailey Hemphill - 8 for 15 (.533), 5 RBI, 5 runs, 2B, 3B, HR
  2. Alexis Mack - 8 for 15 (.533), 1 RBI, 5 runs, 2B, 3B, 3-0 in stolen bases.
  3. Jaala Torrence - 7.1 innings, 7 Ks, 0 walks, 0 runs allowed, 3 hits allowed, save, win.

OBSERVATIONS

  • Sarah Cornell batted for herself for her start on Saturday. She struck out with runners at second and third, popped up to the shortstop with a runner at second, and struck out in the sixth even though she had already been relieved in the circle.
  • Remember how I pondered that maybe Patrick Murphy was using Cornell as a pinch runner and pinch hitter because he had “made her some kind of crazy promise”? Well, that may not be so far from the truth. The Bama play-by-play crew mentioned that Cornell has dreams of playing professional softball and Murph is trying to help her by getting her some at bats. In reality, there are very limited opportunities as a pro in the sport. The National Pro Fastpitch league has only five teams. The NPF cancelled the 2020 and 2021 seasons due to the sicky-sick and may not survive.
  • Cornell and Kilfoyl are a combined 2 for 16 (.125) at the plate with 7 Ks. Stop the madness.
  • In theory, outfielders KB Sides and Jenna Johnson are expected back on Friday but that is TBD. Their returns and the begin of SEC play should put an end to the experimentation.
  • I’ve been thinking this way since last weekend. After this weekend, I’m just going to say it: Freshman pitcher Jaala Torrence is the third best pitcher on this staff and rising. In 12.0 innings pitched in five games, she has yet to give up a run, has struck out 13 and walked only two - which came in her very first college appearance and could probably be chalked up to jitters. She has only given up four hits and one extra base hit, a double by All-American candidate Sammey Bunch of UNI.
  • Torrence is the daughter of Jeff Torrence, a former UA football player who was a member of the 1992 national championship team. He is currently the Principal at Jerry Lee Faine Elementary School in Dothan.
  • Kat Grill continues to show that she is worthy of playing time. The freshman is hitting .364 with 2 doubles, 2 RBI, and scored 8 runs. She may just rival Mack and Brown in the speed department. I’d like to see them all line up Henry Ruggs-Jaylen Waddle style and settle this argument.
  • Fellow freshman KJ Haney got her first college at bat. Though she made an out, she got in a good hack smacking a line drive that went right to the shortstop. She can play catcher and first base. Might she get a look behind the plate at some point soon?
  • With such an oversized roster, at one point Murphy suggested that he would redshirt all of his freshmen. But they are too good to leave on the bench.
  • Taylor Clark is heating up with a 3-for-7 weekend with a double and a RBI in each of her two starts.
  • After a blistering week last week, Kaylee Tow considerably cooled down going 3-18 (.167) over the last six games.
  • Abby Doerr is still hitless on 14 at bats on the season and that is a problem.
  • Small ball was so effective for the Tide this weekend, but for whatever reason, Murphy went away from it on Sunday.
  • South Alabama beat Alabama for the first time in 16 tries.
  • The games on Saturday were not the first times Murphy had faced his alma mater Northern Iowa. The Crimson Tide took a trip to Cedar Falls, Iowa for a tournament in 2013. The two teams also met in T-town in 2018, an 11-3 Bama victory. He got his graduate degree at ULL, a team Alabama will play in late April.
  • Remember that LSU team that Alabama beat twice a couple of weeks ago? Well, they just took two of three games against #7 Texas.
  • Alabama is now 19-1. After 20 games in 2020, Team24 was 12-8. Fouts was a hard luck 3-3 with a 2.04 ERA. Of course that schedule was much tougher (FSU, Washington, UCLA, Oklahoma State, Arizona). It is unfortunate that last month’s Texas tournament with the Longhorns and Arizona was cancelled. Win or lose those face-offs would have been good challenges for this Team25 as they head into SEC play.

UPCOMING SCHEDULE

There is no midweek game this week. SEC action kicks off on Friday at the barn. The War Tiger Plainswomen Eagles are 15-1 and may be better than their #25 ranking.

Friday, March 12 at Auburn 5 pm CT - SECN+

Saturday, March 13 at Auburn 4 pm CT - SECN+

Sunday, March 14 at Auburn 2 pm CT - SECN

#Team25 #RollTide