Alabama Is Starting To Roll At The Perfect Time
If there is such a thing as a postseason powerhouse, then Alabama softball is that beast.
The Crimson Tide have qualified for every NCAA Tournament since 1999 and received a top-16 national seed every year since 2005. They also boast a 40-game win streak in regionals play, with their most recent loss coming 14 years ago in 2007.
To keep their streak alive, Alabama must outlast SWAC champions Alabama State, Troy and their ace, Leanna Johnson—who finished third in a gritty Sun Belt Conference that sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in its history—and the Tigers of Clemson, who won the ACC regular-season title and were one of 20 potential hosts for the tournament this year.
While a clean sweep of regionals is no easy task, Alabama is starting to roll at the perfect time.
After coming up just short of a share of the SEC regular-season title, the Tide outlasted both SEC co-champions, Arkansas and Florida, to become the sole champion of the SEC Tournament.
SEC Player of the Year Bailey Hemphill became the home run queen at the University of Alabama after surpassing one of the greatest players to ever play the game, Kelly Krestchman, with a go-ahead two-run shot to center field to secure Alabama’s victory over Tennessee and a bid to the tournament’s title game.
With 61 career bombs, Hemphill stands alone atop the Alabama record books and still has nearly four weeks to continue to prove all of her doubters wrong.
A nice complement to the power of Hemphill, the Crimson Tide’s lineup is also packed with speed from players like Alexis Mack and Elissa Brown, neither of whom ever fail to impress. Taylor Clark, the team’s shortstop, who was the back-up option for the injured Claire Jenkins, is also heating up at just the right time, blasting her first home run of the year in the semifinal game against Tennessee and providing a key RBI single in the championship game versus Florida.
Offense is not the only thing this team from Tuscaloosa is good at. The ace of the Alabama bullpen, Montana Fouts (22-3), is also red-hot at just the right time. Going 3-0 at the SEC tournament, Fouts recorded a tournament-best 39 strikeouts while only surrendering three walks and three earned runs. Fouts became the first pitcher to throw a complete-game shutout in the championship game since Monica Abbott did so for Tennessee in 2006.
"Winning the tournament at home means everything after all the adversity we've faced and the injuries we've overcome this year," Fouts said after the title-clinching win. "To us, this win signifies that anything is possible and that we can accomplish anything. It feels great to be a part of this university and for our team to contribute our own SEC championship, but we aren't done yet and we have bigger dreams."
Alabama remains the only SEC team to win the tournament on its home turf. The last time Patrick Murphy’s squad won the SEC Tournament, they went on to win it all in Oklahoma City in 2012. Perhaps this year, softball fans will get a reboot of the classic 2012 championship series, in which a powerhouse Oklahoma team with a lefty ace duels against a speedy Alabama team with a righty flame-thrower.
No matter where or when this Alabama team’s season comes to a close, all fans of the game can appreciate what a steady and talented group Patrick Murphy puts on the field year in and year out, and while most have their eyes on Oklahoma and UCLA for the Championship Series, somehow, a team that is 45-7 may just fly under the radar all the way through Oklahoma City.