There are a few things that made the 2019 season special for Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy.
• A school-record 33-0 start.
• A conference championship.
• Winning 60 games for the first time since 2012.
• One win short of playing for the national championship.
But the on-the-field success all pales in comparison to what “Team 23” did for Murphy personally.
“I just think they reenergized me, honestly,” he said. “They really did. They taught me a lot. There’s some years where you say, ‘OK, I’ve had enough.’ There’s other years where you don’t want it to end. That was one of these this year. Everybody just wanted to keep playing. It was a lot of fun. One of the most fun teams, most enjoyable years I’ve ever had.”
Alabama’s season ended Sunday in Oklahoma City with a 7-4 loss to Oklahoma in the semifinals of the Women’s College World Series.
Leading up to that moment, Alabama had to fight off Florida and Arizona in elimination games Saturday to earn another shot with OU.
The Crimson Tide provided some Sunday drama, defeating the top-seed Sooners when Caroline Hardy knocked in the game’s only with a walk-off single, forcing the if-necessary matchup later that night.
“There is no way that team should have been an eight seed,” Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso said of the Tide. “No way.”
After the 7-4 loss, Hardy and her three other senior teammates, Reagan Dykes, Courtney Gettins and Merris Schroder, helped lead the team in one final cheer with the fans in their final game in an Alabama uniform.
“It was sad. Really sad,” Hardy said. “You don’t think it’s going to come. All of a sudden it’s there.”
The cupboard isn’t bare for 2020. Alabama returns second-team All-American and SEC Freshman of the Year pitcher Montana Fouts, and All-SEC Freshman Team second baseman Skylar Wallace.
“These guys, man, you better watch out for them,” Hardy said. “This freshman class really gets it, really wants it. I’m really excited for them. I know they’ll be right back here next year.”
Just like last season, when Hardy and the other seniors immediately started prep work for 2019 on the plane ride home from a season-ending super regional trip in Washington, the groundwork for “Team 24” is already in motion.
There are pieces to fill, but there is another strong senior class to lean on, including SEC Pitcher of the Year Sarah Cornell, second-team All-American first baseman/catcher Bailey Hemphill, All-SEC Defensive team outfielder Elissa Brown, shortstop Claire Jenkins, pitcher Krystal Goodman and infielder Taylor Clark.
“We’re going to be pretty good for a long time,” Murphy said.