“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change”. ~Charles Darwin
Once upon a time, there was a man named Nick Saban. He absolutely detested uptempo HUNH football and even protested against it to the media. But when he realized he could not change the direction things were moving, he learned to adapt and make it work to his advantage.
Once upon a time, there was a man named Patrick Murphy. He abhorred the changes the NCAA made to the slap and bunt rules in college softball. Yet he still recruits and schemes to the days of yore. What is to become of our newest hero. Will he learn to adapt and thrive? or will he stick to the old ways and go down the drain like Les Miles did?
GAME 1: FLORIDA 2, ALABAMA 0
Montana Fouts pitched almost the exact same game in Game 1 as she did in Game 3. Too bad the batters did not have her back. That first game was reminiscent of Fouts’s freshman season in which she suffered some hard luck losses because of lack of offensive support. Meanwhile every time Sarah Cornell was in the circle, the Tide bats exploded with runs. The boot lickers won’t like to hear this but Cornell did not deserve SEC Pitcher of the Year in 2019. Granted she was 22-1 but she always had run support. In that season, Fouts was 21-6 but had an ERA more than a run less than her teammate, 1.39 to 2.50.
Yet here we are again. Game 1 was an embarrassing effort by the Tide offense scratching out only three singles, including two by KB Sides. The other was from Bailey Hemphill who also walked twice. Florida got their only runs in the top of second inning on a walk and a pair of singles. Fouts struck out 11 Gators.
To add injury to insult, starting shortstop Claire Jenkins hurt her non-kneebrace knee and is possibly done with her Alabama softball career.
GAME TWO: FLORIDA 9, ALABAMA 2
If you were at A-Day, be glad you missed this hot mess. For unannounced reasons, Lexi Kilfoyl did not make an appearance this weekend. Instead, Murphy started Krystal Goodman.
In the top of the third, Florida scored two on a walk and back-to-back doubles. Bama would tie it up with two runs in the bottom of the fourth inning on a walk and a pair of singles.
In the fifth, the Gators scored a run without benefit of a hit. Goodman walked a batter who advanced to second on a wild pitch. Cornell would enter the game and immediately throw a wild pitch of her own that sent the run to third. Yet another Cornell wild pitch would score the run. A double play would mercifully end the inning. However, the worse was yet to come.
In the sixth, Bama would graciously hand UF two runs on consecutive fielding errors by Taylor Clark and Savannah Woodard. After an intentional walk (Murphy’s favorite tactic), the next batter would crush a grand slam to break the game wide open. Jaala Torrence would relive and strike out the final batter but the score was 8-2 by that point.
GAME THREE: ALABAMA 4, FLORIDA 2
Fouts gave up two walks and two singles in the third that yielded two Gators runs. The rest of her performance was pretty much vintage Fouts striking out 10. Fortunately for the Crimson Tide ace, the Gators uncharacteristically booted three balls that led to three unearned runs. Florida starter Elizabeth Hightower allowed four hits and one earned run over four innings. Katie Chronister pitched the last two innings and did not allow a baserunner while striking out four. This is the same pitcher who got shelled by UCF last Wednesday.
Singles by Sides and Hemphill followed by a Kaylee Tow ground out led to the first Alabama run. In the third, two Tide walks and a throwing error added a run. A Maddie Morgan grounded out made it 3-2 favor of Bama. Alexis Mack singled in the fourth inning and advance to second on a fielding error. Another UF error would drive her home for the fourth and final run of the game.
- Fouts - Despite the 1-1 weekend record, she pitched really well in both games.
- Sides was 4 for 9 with hits in all three games. She scored three runs and did not whiff.
- Hemphill was 3 for 4 with five walks but did not score nor collect an RBI with Sides hitting ahead of her. That on-base percentage is nice but she is not getting paid to do a leadoff hitter’s job. This team needs dingers from Hemp.
STATS ‘N’ STUFF
*** You know what this section is. Unicorn riders and fans of kitty cat purrs exit stage left.
- I am beginning to see a trend here. When the Tide hitters see a good pitcher for the first time, they struggle. But if they see that pitcher in a later game of a weekend, adjustments have been made and they have much more success again. Here again, blame lies with the coaching staff for not having a good scouting report on said pitchers before the series began.
- Maddie Morgan made an excellent diving catch on a ball drilled down the third base line in Game 3. But, ya know, her defense sucks. Right, Murph?
- I have said it before and it bears repeating that KB Sides is one of the most underrated and consistent players in the nation. Not counting the game she left early because of an injury back in February, this season she has had only one game in which she did not record a hit, run, or RBI. She currently has a nine game hitting streak.
- Fouts has double-digit strikeouts in five straight games.
- Alabama had one multi-base hit in the entire Florida series, a bases empty double by Hemphill.
- KJ Haney and Kyra Lockhart both had two pinch hit opportunities and both struck out twice. Gee, I wonder how they might have done if they had gotten more at bats earlier in the year...
- Six Bama pinch-hitters went 0 for 8 with seven strikeouts.
- Tide runners did not attempt a single stolen base for the whole series.
- Morgan, Tow, Mack and Elissa Brown struggled at the plate, collecting only one hit each.
- Savannah Woodard and Taylor Clark went hitless striking out twice each and both making errors.
- Sides and Hemphill had as many hits (seven) over the weekend as their teammates did.
- Alabama has had WAY too many injuries this season. Sides and Jenna Johnson were lost for several weeks earlier in the season. Fab freshman Bailey Dowling is out for the year and now it looks like Jenkins might be done as well. And then there is the mystery absence of Lexi Kilfoyl. If you are a frequent reader of my softball rantings, you know I have railed against Murphy using Kilfoyl as a batter. No reports have been released on her condition, but it is more likely she was injured batting or running the bases than pitching. We’ll see...
- It is high time that Murphy look into modern physical fitness, exercises, and stretching for his team. Nutritional tips would probably be good too. The man has perhaps the greatest college sports coach ever right there on campus who has proved willing to lend his time and expertise to Tide coaches of other sports. I would recommend he carve out some time to soak up some knowledge from Nick Saban.
- Assistants Alyson Habetz and Stephanie VanBrakle Prothro need to step up as well. They need to be watching game films of future opponents and make adjustments before the other team bus pulls up.
- Murphy will need to take a long look in the mirror after this season is done and decide what he wants to accomplish from here on out at the Capstone. He may need to make some hard decisions if his goal is to win more Women’s College World Series rings.
- Alabama is now 33-7 overall and 12-6 in the SEC. Their hopes for another SEC regular season title is dwindling. Arkansas (36-5, 16-2) swept UGA this weekend. Bama trails the Hogs and the Jorts (32-6, 12-3) in the conference standings with six conference games left to play.
If you are new to college softball, know that UL-Laffy is no pushover. The Ragin’ Cajuns (33-7) are a regular participant in the post-season, having made the NCAA Tournament every season since 2001. USM is 20-19 overall and 0-6 against SEC teams this year.
- Wednesday, April 21, 2021 vs. Southern Miss 6 p.m. CT
- Saturday, April 24, 2021 vs. ULL 1:30 p.m. CT
- Sunday, April 25, 2021 vs. ULL 1:30 p.m. CT