It appears that Patrick Murphy and his Alabama softball team have learned some lessons after the disaster in Lexington. The first and main lesson is that college softball is changing. Teams can no longer ride the pitching alone to championships. In the uber-competitive SEC, Alabama cannot scheme to win every game 1-0 anymore. Those days are gone.
Another lesson is that when things are not going right, you have to change it up.
Some tweaks were made and they were sorely needed. Alexis Mack and KB Sides flip-flopped in the order, Lexi Kilfoyl started Games 1 and 3, and Maddie Morgan started all three games at third base. Hmm. Nice moves, Murph.
Something or someone finally lit a fire under the Crimson Tide bats as the new and improved lineup lit up the Aggies for 33 runs on 38 hits and 18 walks. However the pitching was subpar allowing 15 runs with six home runs surrendered.
GAME ONE: ALABAMA 11, TEXAS A&M 3 (5 innings)
In the bottom of the first, a hungry Bama lineup feasted on the Aggies starting pitcher, badgering Makinzy Herzog for five runs in the first inning. The first six Tide batters reached base before making an out. The big blow came in the form of a Claire Jenkins grand slam, her second long-ball of the year.
Alabama added another run in the third on an Elissa Brown single. The real significance is that the run was converted by pinch runner Jenna Johnson who scored from second on the play. Johnson has been out with an injury since February 24 but looked pretty darn healthy on that play.
Maddie Morgan singled, stole a base, and played stellar third base over three innings, yet was again lifted for Taylor Clark for some reason. In the fourth inning, Clark missed a line drive down the line that was scored as a hit but was probably reachable. Instead, the runner made it to second base. Fortunately for the Tide, the Aggs would not score in the inning.
Starting Bama pitcher Lexi Kilfoyl was cruising along until the fifth inning. That is when the leadoff hitter sent a line drive to shallow right field that KB Sides almost made a phenomenal diving catch on but turned into a double. An error at first base by Kaylee Tow allowed TAMU to get on the board, 6-1. After a strikeout, the Aggies’ Haley Lee sent the first pitch she saw over the left field fence for her 13th dinger of the year, giving Texas A&M hope. After a walk and a single, Kilfoyl got a strike out to keep the score at 6-3.
In the bottom of the fifth frame, Bailey Hemphill singled with the bases loaded to score two. Jenkins would double in another two runs, followed by a Kilfoyl single to enact the run rule for the Crimson Tide win.
Jenkins was 3 for 4 with a double, grand slam and a career-high six RBI. Bama batters walked seven times. The first four batters (Mack, Sides, Hemp, Tow) scored two runs each. Hmm, a lineup change worked out pretty well.
GAME TWO: ALABAMA 8, TEXAS A&M 6
Alabama went from a swing away from a run rule victory to hanging on for dear life to preserve the win.
The Crimson Tide went down 2-0 after one inning but quickly responded with one of their own on a speed generated unearned run by Alexis Mack. In the next inning, it was Mack again to the rescue with a two RBI single followed by a stolen base. She would move up a base on a KB Sides single and would score the fourth Tide run of the game on a single by Bailey Hemphill. Unfortunately for Bama, Kaylee Tow struck out to end the rally - her second K of the day with a runner in scoring position.
Alabama would tack on four more runs in the fourth inning on bases loaded singles by Sides and Lexi Kilfoyl for and 8-2 lead.
In the bottom of fifth, Bama had a chance to end the game on the run rule but Tow grounded out with the bases loaded. She had a rough day.
Montana Fouts had a very odd game. She allowed a single and a Shaylee Ackerman homer in the first inning to get into an early 2-0 hole before the Tide batters had even picked up a bat. Over the next few innings, Fouts was pretty dominant in the circle with at least one strike out in every inning. In the sixth, Ackerman again went yard on her for the third Aggies run but then Fouts struck out the side. In the final inning, the Tide junior induces a ground out and then struck out an Aggie for the second out. And then things fell apart. A Makinzy Herzog home run was followed by a pair of singles bringing Ackerman to the plate. Taking no chances with a dwindling three run lead, Patrick Murphy lifted his starter in favor of Kilfoyl who walked the TAMU slugger. After a single plated a sixth run, Kilfoyl finally struck out an Aggie for the win.
Mack was 3 for 3 with 3 runs and 2 RBI. Despite giving up six runs, Fouts collected 13 Ks on the day.
GAME THREE: ALABAMA 14, TEXAS A&M 6 (6 innings)
The finale was like deja vu all over again. With Kilfoyl in the circle, an Aggie singled and Ackerman hit another two-run homer in the first inning. For the second game in a row, the Tide started out in a 2-0 hole. Fortunately for Bama, their bats followed the script too and struck back with a three-run dinger by Hemphill in the bottom of the frame.
TAMU retook the lead in the third inning on a two-run shot by Haley Lee which knocked Kilfoyl out of the game. Krystal Goodman relieved and gave up a walk and a run on a wild pitch but put out the fire. In the bottom of the fourth inning, the Bama bats exploded for eight runs on eight hits. The big blow came in the middle of the inning when Kaylee Tow broke out of her funk with a rocket grand slam. The Aggies went through four pitchers in the inning before getting the third out.
Lots of clips coming from today’s sweep of Texas A&M for @AlabamaSB, but we have to start here.— Out of the Box (@OutoftheBox_Pod) April 3, 2021
A HUGE Grand Slam from @kaytow12 in the fourth gave the Tide a 10-5 lead. The reaction is EVERYTHING. Incredible. #Team25 pic.twitter.com/Ibw3dCFm6o
TAMU would produce one more run but that was all. The Tide scored two in the fifth and Tow would convert a game-ending RBI single to end the game after six innings.
Sarah Cornell looked solid pitching the final inning and a third, yielding only a single.
- Mack - 7 for 10 batting, 2 BB, 7 runs, 2 RBI, 4 stolen bases; at least 2 runs in every game.
- Hemphill - 5 for 6 batting, 5 BB, 4 runs, 7 RBI, 2B, HR; at least 2 RBI in every game.
- Brown - 6 for 9 batting, 1 BB, 3 runs, 3 RBI; at least 2 hits and a run in every game.
STATS ‘N’ STUFF
*** The sweep is great but Alabama still has some things to work on before the schedule gets tougher. As always, this section includes some tough talk but also good stuff. If you came looking for rainbows and fairy dust, look elsewhere.
- Hemphill is now the Alabama career leader in walks with 203. She surpasses Kaila Hunt for second place in career RBI with 218. She will have to go on an epic tear to reach Charlotte Morgan’s school record of 264. Hemphill also has 57 career round-trippers which is only three behind the school record held by Hall of Famer Kelly Kretschman.
- Jenkins showed in Game 1 what she is capable of at the plate. Yet in typical fashion, she went back to being hitless in Games 2 and 3 (0 for 8). The grad-senior has been a fine player for Alabama, but it would be nice to see her go on a tear for a full series just once before she leaves.
- After taking over for Maddie Morgan in Game 1, Taylor Clark struck out looking with two runners on in her only at bat of the series. Morgan started all three games and had hits in each and did not strike out. She also stole her first base of the season.
- Tow has had some struggles in the field at first base and that is a problem. In a perfect world, Tow would be the designated player and Hemphill would man first. Yet there is nobody on the roster trustworthy to catch and produce at the plate. Murphy knew about this issue coming into the season. So far, Tow has three errors - which is too many for a first baseman. However, her bat needs to be in the lineup every game. If she cannot show improvement, Murphy may have to make her the DP and find someone else to play first. That or move Hemphill there and see if anyone can catch while still contributing to the offense. But it is way late in the season to experiment. For next year, Murphy may have to take a page from Nate Oats’s playbook and find a willing transfer.
- It was tough luck for Kilfoyl again. Her game winning RBI single in Game 1 probably would have been a 3 RBI double if not for the mercy rule that ended the game after the first run crossed the plate. I have a feeling she is okay with that.
- Kilfoyl’s bat is starting to come around (4-7, 3 RBI, 1 run, 5 walks). However, it seems the more plate appearances she makes, the less effective she is in the circle. Coincidence? Also, she has now struck out in six straight games.
- During Sunday’s big fourth inning rally, Sides was seen bending over as she stood at first base. She had to be replaced by Kat Grill. The worst case scenario would be that she has an injury that will keep her out of the lineup. It was a good sign to see she was out celebrating in uniform on the field with her teammates after the win.
- Flashing her speed, Elissa Brown went first to third on a bunt single by Mack in Game 3.
- Kat Grill made the most of her brief appearances scoring three runs off the bench with a walk and a hit in three pate appearances.
- Jenna Johnson and Kayla Davis scored two runs each as pinch runners.
- Alabama scored in the first inning of all three games, a total of nine runs.
- The Tide had five errors and at least one in every game.
- Fouts and Kilfoyl gave up three home runs each over the weekend.
Arkansas is for real. The Razorbacks (30-3) are the last undefeated team in SEC play at 12-0. Braxton Burnside almost has as many home runs (hit her 19th on Friday) as the entire Alabama team (22). The Hogs have 63 total. The Crimson Tide have a big challenge on their hands as they head up to the unfriendly confines of Fayetteville.
- Friday, April 9, at Arkansas 6 pm CT - SECN+
- Saturday, April 10, at Arkansas 11 am CT - ESPN2
- Sunday, April 11, at Arkansas 1 pm CT - SECN+