Patrick Murphy didn’t hear any howls of discontent at the end of the 2018 season. The fiercely loyal Alabama softball fan base never arrived at Rhoads Stadium brandishing pitchforks and lighted torches.
But as the Crimson Tide wrapped up its season in distant Seattle, far from home and short of its annual goal of Oklahoma City, Murphy knew there was some grumbling, the occasional angry post on social media. No one knew better than he did that a 36-20 season — not bad, not great — was short of expectations. After all, he’s the one who built the program to have such high expectations.
“You would hear about it,” Murphy said on Tuesday night as his team prepares for this week’s SEC Tournament in College Station, Texas. “We had a stretch where we lost three SEC series in a month and all of them came down to one-run games in the third game of the series. That’s one key hit away from winning in those series. So there was some negativity, and that can be a downer if you let it.”
Instead, Murphy turned negativity into a positive.
“I would read things but then I’d tell myself ‘you know, you could have fans that just don’t care.’ That’s what you really don’t want. So I’d tell myself that every comment meant that we have great fans who really care and you build on that.”
There was another aspect to the criticism — Murphy was just as mad as the critics.
“I told our team at the first meeting of the season that I had a big-ass chip on my shoulder,” Murphy said. “I didn’t like how (2018) ended and I didn’t like how the year before ended, either (also with a road loss in the super regionals.) I didn’t want it to happen again. I understood why we were picked eighth — a young team, not great on offense the year before and we had lost our No. 1 pitcher (Alexis Osario). But I didn’t tell the team that. I told them I expected us to be better and they responded.”
The resulting SEC championship made Murphy an easy choice for the SEC Coach of the Year, an award announced Tuesday. This marked the fifth time he’s received the honor although he said it was as special in its way as his first SEC award when he took Alabama on its first WCWS trip in 2000.
“You share it with a lot of people,” Murphy said. “The players, first of all. The assistant coaches (Alyson Habetz and pitching coach Stephanie Van Brakle Prothro) did a great job. Steph had to work with five pitchers, which meant she had to make some changes in the way she had always done things. In the years before now, the sessions with the pitchers had almost been individual sessions but you can’t do that with five pitchers. But she handled it, which is a huge challenge for one person.”
All of Alabama’s pitchers blossomed this season, including two other individual award winners, SEC Freshman of the Year Montana Fouts and SEC pitcher of the Year Sarah Cornell.
“Today was Sarah’s 21st birthday, too,” Murphy said. “We told her a few minutes before the SEC made it public because I don’t like the players to find out on social media or when their friends start texting them. So Nate (Sheehan, Alabama’s softball SID) got on the bus and read the awards and when he said “SEC Pitcher of the Year Sarah….,” she immediately started bawling, just burst into tears. So it was a happy birthday and a good way to celebrate for all of us.
“But now, we put the awards back on the shelf and leave them alone,” Murphy said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.