If you have ever played a video game, you know how this goes. You play, you work, dodge and weave, struggle, and somehow survive. Then comes the next level. And it is faster and more difficult. Thus is the 2021 Alabama softball schedule.
Alabama survived the Texas A&M level, but now it is on to the Arkansas level. The Razorbacks are a surprising 32-3 overall and 12-0 in the SEC, the only conference team with less than two league losses. However, their four SEC sweeps have come against @ South Carolina, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and @ Auburn. Three out of four of these teams are in the SEC cellar. SC and MSU are winless in conference play and Auburn is 1-8. OM is 6-6. Additionally, Arky’s three losses have come to Liberty, McNeese, and No. 12 Oklahoma State.
None of this means that the Tide can just show up and win this weekend. Sweeping any team in the SEC is no small feat - especially on the road.
The Hogs have ascended to No. 8 in two polls and No. 10 in the two others.
Alabama’s Bailey Hemphill and Arkansas’ Braxton Burnside were named SEC Co-Players of the Week. Lexi Kilfoy won her second SEC Newcomer of the Week - an award I still don’t completely understand but whatevs. Too lazy to look into it or even finish this senten
The Hogs lean heavily on Mary Haff (18-2, 1.07 ERA, 3 saves) who has struck out 137 and walked 24 in a ridiculously high 124.0 innings pitched. The unfortunately named Autumn Storms (5-0, 1.50 ERA, 3 saves) is the No. 2 pitcher on the team and can hold her own. Opposing batters have a .172 batting average against these two. Arky employs three other hurlers but they are nowhere near as effective.
Aw, Lawd. This is not good timing for the Tide. The above number now stands at 69 team home runs which is second in the nation behind the behemoth lurking in Norman. Braxton Burnside has been blowing it up with 20 round-trippers by herself (second most). She also has 46 RBI and 106 total bases. Oddly enough, she only has five doubles. Danielle Gibson is hitting .397 with 14 doubles, 11 homers, and 37 RBI. Linnie Malkin has 13 four-baggers and 30 RBI, but is hitting .286.
Despite all the long balls, Arkansas does not hit all that well as a team (.283 team average) and are not very deep beyond a handful of players. Arky is VERY lacking in stolen bases, swiping only 3 in 5 attempts.
The Razorbacks have 30 errors, eight by shortstop Burnside. This number is middle of the pack in the SEC.
If you look at the SEC stats sheets, it is a wonder the Crimson Tide is a Top 5 team. They are second to last in the conference in home runs (22), seventh in doubles, last in triples, 11th in slugging, 11th in fielding percentage and errors, and last in double plays with a microscopic three. However, they are second lowest in the league in team ERA (1.55), runs allowed (62) and doubles allowed (19). Florida tops the Tide in those first two categories. Opposing batting average is .190 (4th best in the SEC).
They do lead the conference in two key categories: hitting batters with only 6 and walks allowed with 44.
The six home runs given up by Montana Fouts and Kilfoyl last weekend were a bit alarming, especially with what is on tap. They had been near the top in the nation in denying home runs before the TAMU series.
One big thing Alabama has going for them is their signature aggressive base running. As noted above, Arkansas does not run that much and have only had 22 attempts against them. The Crimson Tide have taken 50 of 60 bases and run like crazy. This aspect of the game might be a bit foreign to the Razorbacks. Expect big performances from Alexis Mack and Elissa Brown.
Just as last week, the Crimson Tide did not have a midweek game. Most would think that gave the pitching staff some time to rest. Yet, could it have caused a little rust?
On Tuesday, the Razorbacks homered six times in a 9-1 rout of Missouri State. Arky has now won 12 straight.
TBH, I don’t know why all three of these games are not on regular cable. This is THE series of the week.
- 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+