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2024 Alabama Softball Preview: Starting Over

Team28 will look like no other Tide team of the past.

Alabama v Tennessee
For better or worse, it’s Jenna Johnson’s team.
Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

Alabama softball has had some great players matriculate through the Capstone. As is the reality, they all eventually graduate and move on to other things. In almost every transition year, the Tide has been able to reload and remain on the level of elite softball programs. With no real “superstars” on the team this spring, this season will have more unknowns than ever before.

LAST SEASON

It is safe to say that 2023 was one of the weirdest seasons of recent memory. Team 27 finished 45–22 which represents the largest loss total for Alabama since the 1999 season. Yet they still got to the Women’s College World Series - though perhaps under mysterious circumstances. But more on that later.

Alabama got off to a dubious start with a 7-4 defeat at the hands of Lehigh in the season opener. Fortunes changed a week later at the esteemed Clearwater Invitational when the Tide took down Florida State, UCF, a solid Duke, and a halfway decent Indiana team but fell to UCLA. Following that tournament, the Tide swept through a 14-game stretch of cupcakes but still managed to lose one to lowly Kennesaw State.

In SEC play, Alabama managed to go 14-10, finishing fifth in the conference. They lost two of three to three teams ahead of them - Tennessee, Auburn, Arkansas - and did not play second place Georgia. They swept only Mississippi State and did not get swept themselves. Mixed in the middle of conference play was another embarrassing and doomed trip to Appalachia that included a loss to Liberty.

Despite finishing fifth in the SEC, Alabama was charitably seeded #5 in the post-season and blessed with punching bags LIU and MTSU - though it took UA three games to eliminate the latter. In the Super-Regional, the Tide faced fellow over-seeded Northwestern squad who Bama defeated two games to three with a pair of one-run wins. Many followers of college softball declared shenanigans on the favorable path set up for Alabama on the basis that the Crimson Tide had the most popular rock star player in the world on the team and it was good for TV ratings. But the clock struck midnight on the Tide in the Women’s College World Series as Tennessee and Stanford swatted Bama aside in the opening rounds.

TEAM28

Tide nation is still all in.

COACHES

An Alabama softball reunion is under way. Can they get some of that 2012 juice back?

Patrick Murphy is back for another season of Alabama softball, but will do so without a familiar face across the diamond. In a surprising off-season move, longtime assistant Alyson Habetz retired from coaching. In an almost as surprising move, former Tide All-American and SEC Network personality Kayla Braud has hung up the mic to take Habetz’s place.

It really feels like she will be a sorely needed breath of fresh air to the program with her knowledge and enthusiasm. Her years of scouting teams for ESPN/SECN will definitely come in handy.

The only problem with this upgrade is that Braud comes from the slap-hitter era. College softball has long moved away from the strategy of small ball of dink and dunking singles/errors and stealing bases. Today’s softball for almost a decade is about power and long balls. Braud herself never hit more than around a half dozen round-trippers in her career. Her career batting average is second best in program history at .438 but she relied on bunts, slaps, and speed. Rule changes have repressed much of that strategy.

Murphy has already bragged about having an abundance of “green light girls” which means they have the go ahead to attempt to steal bases at will. All of this points to this small ball strategy - which at this point may be a necessity since Murphy did not bother to sign anyone with any proven power.

Greenhorn assistant Adam Arbour has been assigned the role of batting coach, though he has a mighty thin résumé.

Former volunteer coach and 2011-14 infielder Ryan Iamurri has moved to a paid off-field position of Coordinator of Player Management while Lance McMahon returns for a third season as pitching coach.

Murphy in back for his 28th season at the Capstone and his 26th as head coach. Could he be grooming Braud to be his successor?

PLAYERS

GONE (deep breath)

  • P Montana Fouts (Grad)
  • C Ally Shipman (Grad)
  • 3B Ashley Prange (Grad)
  • OF Faith Hensley (Grad)
  • C Aubrey Barnhart (Texas Tech)
  • OF Jordan Stephens (Boston College)

WOOF.

The good news is the Tide only lost two players to the transfer portal and they were reserve players. The bad news is the three player that kept this team competitive last year are out of eligibility.

Shipman and Prange accounted for a vast majority of the Tide’s offensive output in 2023. 118 of Bama’s 350 hits (34%) and 80 of 227 runs (35%) came complimentary of this pair. 26 of 42 doubles (62%) and 22 of 34 home runs (65%) also belonged to them. Hensley was mostly ineffective.

If you have read this far, it seems certain you don’t need to be told what Fouts brought to the team.

RETURNING STARTING FIELDERS

One bright spot is that Team28 has seven returning players with 48 or more starts. The bad part is the giant holes left at catcher and third base by Prange and Shipman.

  • The further we get from the year 2020, the less we will see of Super Seniors with their bonus seasons. Having already played in 171 games, Jenna Johnson is starting her fifth season with the Tide. She will again be joined in the outfield by sophomore Kristen White.
  • Also back is fourth year senior Bailey Dowling. Last season, a nagging injury mostly kept her off the field but she was utilized as the designated player/hitter. She participated in 64 of 67 Alabama games last spring but had only 25 defensive chances (number of opportunities to record an out). What her role will be this season is a big question mark.
  • Shortstop Kenleigh Cahalan came to the Tide last year as a reclassified freshman and was thrust right into the spotlight. She started out like gangbusters but cooled off a little as the season went on. Now another year older with a full season under her belt, she should be better prepared for the 60+ games that lay before her. Many in the softball media feel that she will have a break out season.
  • Starting 51 games, Kali Heivilin carved out a niche at second base. Larissa Preuitt was the third outfielder with the most starts at 48. Emma Broadfoot had 49 starts primarily at first base.

RETURNING RESERVE FIELDERS

  • Welp. Murphy brought Lauren Esman back for a bonus season instead of signing another freshman or finding someone in the transfer portal. The Gut’s® experiment with her as a pitcher last season did not go so well (wow, who saw that coming?). She also played a little first base but recorded only 7 hits on 39 at bats with one extra base hit and one run scored. Bama has loaded up on pitchers. It is a mystery what The Gut® has planned for her this year.
  • Marlie Giles was supposed to be the heir apparent at catcher with Shipman graduating. Though she did hit two home runs, she mostly struggled in her freshman year up to bat (.204) and behind home plate. What does it say that Murphy picked up a catcher from the portal? Perhaps a position change for Giles?
  • Sophomore Abby Duchscherer could be a candidate for third base or second if Murphy wants to move Heivilin over to the hot corner.
  • Senior OF Kat Grill had 31 starts in 2022 but only 9 last season. Senior KJ Haney spent all of last season on the bench in a large leg brace. Assuming she is a go, she can play catcher or first base. Senior M’Kay Gidley returns in her pinch-running specialist role.

NEWBIE FIELDERS

Murphy did some shopping in the off-season and came up with some jewels and what must have been a few Gut® feelings.

  • Jenna Johnson’s bonus season gives her a unique opportunity to play with her kid sister Lauren Johnson (Franklin, TN) in the outfield. The freshman Johnson has a little spunk to her and should prove to be a fan favorite for years to come.
things that make you go hmmm

Transfers. Hmm. Here is where it gets weird. The Gut® brought in OF Kinley Pate (Northport, AL) from Samford, catcher Riley Valentine (Phoenix, AZ) from Texas A&M, and Kendal Clark (Humboldt, IA) from world-famous Des Moines Area Community College.

  • As a frosh with the Bulldogs, Pate batted .227 with two RBIs and zero extra base hits. Hmm.
  • In her one season with the Aggies, Valentine has the most “power team” playing experience but hit just .188 with 6 home runs and 20 RBI. In 40 games behind the dish, she had one error, one pass ball and threw out 3 of 6 base stealing attempts. Hmm.
  • Unknown entity Clark was a NJCAA All-American as a freshman for what that is worth. In 56 games in 2022, she hit .559 with 27 home runs, 101 RBI and 78 runs scored. Last season, she dipped down to .396, 20 HR, 63 RBI, and 84 runs. She had six errors as a frosh but three during the last campaign. As far as I can tell, her position is outfield, though I suspect she will get a look at first base as well. Back in high school, Clark was the 170-pound girls’ state wrestling champ which apparently is a thing in Iowa. She also played volleyball and participated in track in high school. The stats are right purty but it’s a whole different game up in D1/SEC from juco. Hmm.

PITCHING

RETURNING PITCHERS

  • Jaala Torrence (9-3, 2.67 ERA, 75 K, 32 BB) - The senior improved last season but still lacks consistency. Against a cupcake team, she can be a lights out mega-superstar. However, she sometimes struggles against power teams and Murphy has learned to keep her on a short leash. Her strikeout to walk ratio bettered last season and her wild pitches were down (13 to 4) in 35.2 more innings than the year before.
  • Alex Salter (7-4, 4.00, 36 K, 29 BB) - The redshirt junior was relied on much more in 2023. She had some bright spots but also had plenty of rough outings. Like Torrence, she is also a bit inconsistent in her performances.

NEWBIE PITCHERS

SHE’S FRESH

Freshman pitcher Jocelyn Briski (Phoenix, AZ) comes in as the No. 7 ranked player by Extra Innings Softball, No. 11 by Perfect Game Softball and No. 13 by Softball America - basically the softball equivalent of a 5-star. She struck out 599 batters over 264 innings in her senior season.

“Jocelyn is a power pitcher with swing-and-miss stuff, her movement is filthy. She gives her team a chance to win every time she steps in the circle. Off days don’t happen very often. Offensively, she is country strong with the ability to leave the ballpark at anytime. When she leaves the yard, they are no doubters.”- Arizona Storm fastpitch coach Steve Appel.

With six pitchers on the roster, it will not be necessary to thrust Briski into the role of ace as a true freshman. The sky is the limit for this right-hander.

TRANSFERS

Murphy found a pair of nuggets in the Transfer Portal:

  • Kayla Beaver (25-7, 1.15 ERA, 194 strikeouts over 201.2 innings pitched in 2023) is a grad student from Jackson, TN. Murphy and the Tide staff got a first hand look at the Central Arkansas ace during the Tuscaloosa Regional. Although Alabama never played the Bears, she pitched pretty well in two games. Last season, she recorded a five-hit shutout win over Arkansas and a two-hit shutout win over Utah. She also ridiculously threw 11.0 innings (144 pitches) against Liberty in the ASUN Tournament and allowed only seven hits and one earned run in the 2-1 win.
  • Alea Johnson (7-1, 1.41 ERA, 44.2 IP) This sophomore from Fairhope, AL comes home after a year at LSU. She made only 12 appearances with seven starts behind All-SEC Ali Kilponen and superfrosh Sydney Berzon. She has some control issues. However, if she can fix that issue, she could form into a special pitcher for the Tide

PROJECTED STARTERS

This Team28 lineup is a really tough one to predict since Murphy keeps communications locked up in Fort Knox, but here goes.

1B - BROADFOOT
2B - DUCHSCHERER
SS - CAHALAN
3B - HEIVILIN
LF - JOHNSON
CF - WHITE
RF - PREUITT
C - VALENTINE
DH - DOWLING
P1 - BEAVER

SCHEDULE

atlanta
The Tide comes to Atlanta.

The Crimson Tide start off the season in Atlanta and it sounds like there will be a strong contingent of Bama fans at the Georgia Tech diamond Feb 8-10. They will take on Villanova, Longwood (2 games), and the Yeller Jackets (2 games).

That trip is followed by the annual home field Bama Bash against a bunch of cupcakes. Sandwiched in between is a UAB tournament for you Birmingham folks to pack the stands versus more dessert treats. The final OOC tournament is the Crimson Classic with two games each against Arizona and South Alabama.

Chattanooga v Alabama
Pray for Alabama Softball in early March.
Photo by Brandon Sumrall/Getty Images

Early March could make or break this team.

On March 22-23, Virginia Tech comes to town for a two game series. After that, it is three game series @ Kentucky, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, @ Arkansas, Tennessee, and finally @ Auburn.

On the bright side, top-ranked behemoth Oklahoma and fifth ranked Texas don’t join the league until next season. Also, no midseason trips to Appalachia!! WOO-HOO!

PROGNOSIS

2024 Preseason Top 25:

  • Softball America #21
  • D1Softball #11
  • ESPN.com/USA Softball #14
  • USA Today/Coaches #12
Rk ESPN.com/USA Softball D1Softball Softball America USA Today/Coaches
1 Oklahoma Oklahoma Oklahoma Oklahoma
2 Tennessee Stanford Tennessee Tennessee
3 Stanford Tennessee Florida State Florida State
4 Florida State Florida State Stanford Stanford
5 Texas Texas Clemson Clemson
6 Georgia Georgia Georgia Georgia
7 Clemson Clemson Texas Washington
8 UCLA Duke Arkansas Texas
9 Duke UCLA Duke Oklahoma State
10 Washington Washington UCLA UCLA
11 Oklahoma State ALABAMA Baylor Duke
12 Arkansas Oklahoma State LSU ALABAMA
13 Oregon Nebraska Utah Utah
14 ALABAMA Oregon Oklahoma State LSU
15 LSU Utah Nebraska Oregon
16 Utah Baylor Oregon Arkansas
17 Nebraska LSU South Carolina Florida
18 Florida Arkansas Virginia Tech Nebraska
19 Baylor Auburn Texas A&M Auburn
20 Auburn Florida Auburn Northwestern
21 ULL ULL ALABAMA ULL
22 South Carolina South Carolina Washington Baylor
23 Virginia Tech San Diego State ULL South Carolina
24 Texas A&M Northwestern Florida San Diego State
25 Northwestern Texas A&M San Diego State Kentucky


If you attend a game this season, you might want to print out a roster to take with you. Alabama has many new faces to register in the ol’ memory banks.

The Crimson Tide has occasionally carried five pitchers in the past. It is probably safe to say that they have never had six on the roster (that is if the Esman experiment continues as it did in the fall). This move was probably prompted by last season’s pitching woes past Fouts. Often times, Murphy had no other options. This new count absolutely gives Murphy plenty of opportunities for success. Anchored by Beaver, it should be a solid staff.

As mentioned above, it appears by all accounts that Murphy is going against the grain - WAY against the grain - in playing small ball in 2024. Perhaps Cahalan or Dowling can bust out a big season of power. Maybe Clark or Valentine have some pop. But more likely prepare thyself for a lot of low-scoring games.

ALUM

  • Ashley Prange is the new assistant coach for UAB.
  • Lacy Prejean has taken the helm at Northwestern State. She was a four-time All-SEC catcher for Alabama from 2000-03 and later Director of Softball Operations at Alabama from 2007-09.

#RollTide #Team28

Be honest!

Poll

How far will Team28 go this season?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    WCWS Final 4.
    (11 votes)
  • 19%
    WCWS participant.
    (53 votes)
  • 34%
    Lose in Supers.
    (96 votes)
  • 25%
    Lose in Regional.
    (69 votes)
  • 17%
    Not make the post-season.
    (47 votes)
276 votes total Vote Now