RBR is back for another spring of Alabama softball coverage. For over a decade, we have provided extensive coverage and do so in a candid call-em-as-we-see-em manner. Sometimes, it can be critical. That is who we are and we won’t change for the rage mob. If you want unicorns and lollipops, there are plenty of others out there who will gladly blow sunshine up your nether regions. Now that that is out of the way, let’s start the preview!
The disappointments of losing in the final four of the 2021 WCWS were worsened by last season’s post-season meltdown. While most teams would be over-the-moon thrilled with a 44-13 record that the Tide had last season, they would not trade it for how it all ended.
Despite offensive owes, Alabama started the season well enough winning their first 20 games including an upset win at 2022 WCWS participant Arizona, a two-game sweep of WCWS runner-up Texas, and a twin-killing of Virginia Tech - all of whom finished the season in the Top 10.
Then a trip into SEC play at Baton Rouge began to expose the cracks in the foundation. The Crimson Tide was winning most conference series (two out of three or a sweep) until a fateful April night in College Station, Texas where Bama dropped two out of three to the doormat Aggies. Later they would fall flat at Western Kentucky and then be shutout by Mizzou in the first round of the SEC Softball Tournament. This would be followed by a displacement by a mediocre Stanford team played in the Tuscaloosa Regional. It would be the first time the Tide would not be playing in a Super-Regional.
Two veteran players who were expected to play big roles, basically quit on the team. A couple of fab freshmen who began the season on fire turned colder and colder the longer they played with the Tide. All four of those individuals have since left the team for another school.
The rumors of “personality conflicts” the last couple of years may have aided in the implosion in the dugout last season. Team26 did not feel like a team. They were more like divided cliques who were running on pure athletic talent. Often times at home games, chants and chatter could be heard much more louder from the opposing teams than those of the crimson and white.
Bama finished 44-13 and 18-8 in the SEC. After a pre-season No. 2 ranking, they charitably finished at No. 17/18. Montana Fouts was the Tide’s only All-American (second team).
Things have grown stale in the program and a change was needed on the coaching staff. Alabama got that change, just not the right one. Former pitching coach Stephanie VanBrakle Prothro has left the team to take the head job at Memphis and we wish her the best.
SVBP has been replaced by an inspiring hire of Lance McMahon to lead the pitching staff. However, this team really needs a true hitting coach.
[SIDE NOTE: After a few years of wrangling with the objections from mid-major programs, the NCAA DI Council has finally approved the hiring of a third paid assistant coach in softball, baseball, and ice hockey. However, the new rule does not go into affect until July 1.]
Patrick Murphy returns for his 27th year at the Capstone and his 25th season as head coach.
Alyson Habetz returns for her 88th season to clap her hands in the first base box. Former Tide catcher Ryan Iamurri is back for a second season as Volunteer Assistant Coach.
So much for that incredible recruiting class of 2022. Three of them - and arguably the BEST three - have transferred out after one season.
- Megan Bloodworth to Oklahoma State - .292, 7 HR, 30 RBI
- Dallis Goodnight to UGA - .302, 33 RUNS, 18-20 SB
- Jenna Lord to Ole Miss - .289
Why does it feel like these transfers, much like KB Sides to Arkansas last year, will come back to haunt the Tide?
Bama also had three veterans hit the Transfer Portal.
- Lexi Kilfoyl was supposed to be the number 2 pitcher that put this team over the top and would keep the train rolling after Fouts left. Instead, she joins Bloodworth in Stillwater.
- Injuries were the reasons given for Savannah Woodard’s backslide last season but it seems like it was much more than that. Maybe she will find herself at Liberty?
- Eugene, Oregon native Abby Doerr moves closer to home with a transfer to Oregon State
Former All-American Kaylee Tow is out of eligibility and off into the real world.
Thanks to the infamous Captain Trips Super-Senior Bonus Eligibility Season Proclamation of 2020, Tide fans get to bask in the glow of Montana Fouts for one last season. Also back for a final curtain call are catcher Ally Shipman and Ashley Prange at third base. They are joined by outfielder Jenna Johnson who is starting her fourth season with the Tide and third year infielder Bailey Dowling to make up the nucleus of the team.
- C Ally Shipman (.350, 8 HR, 46 RBI, 40 R, 1 E, 6 PB)
- 3B Ashley Prange (.333, 8 HR, 27 RBI, 40 R, 9 E)
- SS Bailey Dowling (.267, 10 HR, 29 RBI, 26 R, 6 E)
- OF Jenna Johnson (.287, 5 HR, 24 RBI, 27 R, 1 E)
Remember that freshmen class I mentioned above? Three of the six are returning but none of them exactly knocked our socks off last year.
- C/UTIL Aubrey Barnhart (.200, 4 RBI)
- IF Kali Heivilin (.226, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 3 SB, 1 E)
- OF Jordan Stephens (.231, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 3 SB, 1 E)
The Tide also return three other reserves.
- OF Kat Grill (.296, 5 RBI, 18 R) - A part-time starter last season, this third year player has a head start on one of the outfield spots this spring.
- KJ Haney (.231, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 2 R) - Other than a dramatic pinch-hit grand slam against South Carolina, she really hasn’t done anything that proves she might crack the starting lineup anytime soon.
- PR/OF M’Kay Gidley - Walk-on pinch-running specialist appeared in 29 games and scored 9 runs. The Tuscaloosa native was also 4 of 5 in stolen bases. God bless her for coming back to play a thankless yet vital role. C’mon, Murph! Give her an at bat! #LetMKayHit
Clearly, Murphy was caught off-guard by the mass exodus of transfers. Before this whole NCAA transfer free agency fiasco came along, the Bama manager was a master of signing new players to fill anticipated holes for the next campaign.
The messed up thing is that softball Signing Day is in November - a whole year and three months before that team takes the field. I don’t think when Murphy was recruiting in 2021 for the 2023 class that he expected Kilfoyl and the three freshmen who had not even played an inning to already be gone. Hopefully, these newbies can fill in the unexpected holes.
SHE’S FRESH (FRESH) EXCITING...
- IF Kenleigh Cahalan - Late last year, the news broke that this Trussville native was able to reclassify from the Class of 2024 to this season. She was one of the highest ranked players in that previous class. Is she ready for the big jump?
- IF/OF Abby Duchscherer - If you have “North Dakota Gatorade Basketball Player of the Year” on your BINGO card, you are in luck. Murphy says she can play any position on the infield or outfield.
- C/UTIL Marlie Giles - Possibly the catcher of the future for Alabama. From Clanton, Ala.
- OF Larissa Preuitt - The Hartselle resident could be the best of the bunch.
- OF Kristen White - Unlike the football team, softball is able to sign recruits from Phenix City! White has blazing fast speed, stealing 252 bases in 263 attempts in her high school career.
- IF Emma Broadfoot (.388, 15 2B, 10 HR, 61 RBI, 10 E) - This junior mainly played third base for North Alabama. Great numbers, but mostly against lesser talented teams. Unless they want to try Prange at another position, Broadfoot may get a look at first or DH.
- OF Faith Hensley (.404, 17 HR, 40 RBI, 13 SB, 1 E) - Fifth-year senior from Ball State was the 2022 MAC Player of the Year. She will likely start in the outfield.
- 1B/P Lauren Esman (.263, 3 HR, 20 RBI, 9 BB, 33 K) - A curious addition, this Michigan transfer is meh at the plate with a poor walk-to-strikeout ratio. However, the lefty was apparently brought in to pitch (see below). It is TBD if she will pick up a bat this season.
- Montana Fouts (23-7, 2.10 ERA, 275 K, 53 BB, 3 SV) - Have you heard of her? The super-senior has already set some school pitching records. Thanks to a fifth year of eligibility, she will be shattering them and even has a shot at the rare 100 career wins and 1000 Ks (before you start pulling out your asterisks, she pitched in only 8 games in the panic-enduced shortened season of 2020 and got three wins). Fouts currently sits at 75-21 with a 1.72 ERA and 858 strikeouts against 181 walks.
- Jaala Torrence (7-2, 2.86 ERA, 48 K, 32 BB, 1 SV) - The rising junior can be frustrating to watch. Pit her against a cupcake team and she will be lights out mega-superstar. However, she struggled mightily against Power teams and Murphy has learned to keep her on a short leash. She had 13 wild pitches which is three more than Fouts had all season. She also walked as many (32) as Kilfoyl did while pitching 21.1 less innings. She has always had the potential. 2023 will be a key year for her.
- Alex Salter (4-0, 2.14) - The redshirt sophomore got knocked around by cupcakes early in the season and was not all that impressive. However, she can be good in short appearances.
Perhaps the most peculiar story of the off-season is acquisition of Michigan’s Lauren Esman. What this team needed more than anything was a No. 2 starting pitcher who Fouts could pass the baton to as a future No. 1. Instead, Murphy is taking a BIIIG chance on a light-hitting infielder who has pitched in all of two collegiate innings and that was in 2020. Murphy held his first press conference of the season which had at least six different “journalists” ask questions and NOT A SINGLE PERSON asked about this odd situation.
This Team27 lineup is a really tough one to predict but here goes.
1B - DUCHSCHERER
2B - HEIVILIN
SS - DOWLING
3B - PRANGE
LF - JOHNSON
CF - HENSLEY
RF - GRILL
C - SHIPLEY
DH - CAHALAN
Last season, many Bama fans lamented that all the high-profile teams were playing in the Clearwater Tournament and the Tide was playing in stupid little tournaments against cupcakes (and not exactly feasting on them). This year, the Crimson Tide is included in that invitational and will face up-and-coming Duke, superpower UCLA, dangerous UCF, Indiana, and Tide nemesis Florida State.
The bad news is that there are plenty of “stupid little tournaments” to go with the Clearwater trip. The rest of the pre-SEC schedule is chockful of godawful games - all in Tuscaloosa. The opponents are Lehigh, Georgia Southern, Samford, Kennesaw State, Southeastern Louisiana, Indiana State, Southern Miss, Robert Morris, Longwood, Mercer, Western Michigan, and an away game at UAB. Ugh. That is Jim Harbaugh level awful.
Just in the nick of time, the schedule perks up in March with two games at Texas for the Bevo Classic. This is followed by one game each with Texas State and Wisconsin in Austin.
After that, it’s one game in Florence against UNA, March 14. Be forewarned, tickets are $20 for general admission and parking is another $5.
After that, it is on to conference play. The SEC foes are Arkansas, Tennessee, Mizzou, South Carolina, Missy State, Auburn, LSU, and Ole Miss. Thankfully, the Tide do not play Georgia so they don’t have to watch Goodnight steal seven bases and score 20 runs en route to a SEC POY season. Bama also misses Erin Coffel and Kayla Kowalik’s Kentucky, Skylar Wallace-led Florida, and the dreaded Texas A&M.
And back by unpopular demand are two mid-April Tuesday games in Huntington, WV against Marshall and Liberty (Hi, Savannah!). H-town is probably about as close a game that one can get to Fouts’s Grayson, KY hometown. You may recall, last year’s trip to WKU to honor Kaylee Tow would start the downward spiral. It’s a nice gesture but for Pete’s sake, do this crap earlier in the season, or better yet during the fall exhibition season. Let’s hope this distracting trip goes better this year.
At the field 2 hours before our first practice of spring. There’s six girls here already… all upperclassmen trying to soak in every minute… or hour I suppose. ❤️ (P.S. rest of team this does NOT mean you need to be here this early )— Ryan Iamurri (@RyanIamurri32) January 8, 2023
Of all the seasons of following this team, this might be the toughest one to read. Last year’s team had the talent to make it to Oklahoma City. But unforeseen personality clashes doomed them to failure. Murphy has always been a player’s coach, perhaps sometimes to a fault. A manager wants everyone on his team to get along, but in the end, he needs to be the personnel decision maker.
Late last week, Murphy mentioned having a “low maintenance” team - which clearly slipped by all the “journalists” in the room but it made my ears prick up to mean “no drama”. For better or for worse, everybody seems to be in lockstep this year. Everyone seems giddy and eager to start the season. But there are so many questions:
- Has the offense gotten over their power outages that stung them last year?
- Who is leading off?
- Can anyone hit with consistency in the 7-8-9 spots?
- Can anyone outside of Fouts be trusted in the circle with a game on the line?
- Will Fouts pitch every single inning?
- What exactly does Habetz do besides cheerlead?
Murphy remarked that he had “seven green light girls” which means they have the green light to steal a base without coach’s permission. Which leads to believe that he intends to continue with his old slap ‘n’ dash/chaos on the base paths strategy over the power game that most other major programs have embraced. I suppose we’ll find out on February 10 against the mighty Lehigh Jackalopes or whatever their mascot is.
How far will Team27 go?
This poll is closed
WCWS Final 4.
Lose in Supers.
Lose in Regional.