Bailey Hemphill hasn’t played softball in two months, yet softball remains on the forefront of her mind — despite best attempts at distractions from her home in Lafayette, Louisiana.

“I have not found a new hobby,” Hemphill said. “My parents and I and my sister, we went through every board game in the house. Played them so much we’re sick of them and never want to play them again. I’m a big movie junkie, so I’ve watched a bunch of movies that I’ve never had the time to watch, but now I do so might as well watch them.

“Been on a big NCIS: Los Angeles kick for some reason, rewatched all of the seasons. Definitely just wishing for quarantine to be over so I can go back to Tuscaloosa, be with my friends and be in the cages, throw softballs with one another.”

As soon as University of Alabama coach Patrick Murphy offered the chance to do so, she took it. Hemphill is one of the seven seniors who all chose to return to UA for the 2021 season, Hemphill doing so for one primary reason.

“I do not want to end my career that way.”

Hemphill did give some consideration to post-softball life, which she did have some plans for, but those plans include additional school. Those plans were much easier to postpone than a job offer, thus Hemphill did it in a heartbeat.

An unintended consequence of Hemphill’s decision to return is her chance to wreak even more havoc on UA’s record book. She already owns the school record for single-season RBI with 84 (second in SEC history) and home runs with 26 (tied for first in SEC history). When including her two home runs from the 2020 season, she is 10 shy of tying Kelly Kretchman’s UA career home runs record of 60; when including her 10 RBI in 2020, with another 84-RBI season as she had in 2019, she would break Charlotte Morgan’s school record for career RBI. Both marks would have her top 10 in SEC history.

If Hemphill is to do it, opponents will have to treat her differently than they did in the shortened 2020 season.

Hemphill was walked 24 times in 22 games this spring; when she did get something in the strike zone, it was rarely something she could drive. Her two home runs in 50 at-bats (a home run every 25 at-bats) was far below her pace from 2019 (a home run every 7.38 at-bats) and 2018 (a home run every 9.46 at-bats).

“I went through something similar in high school, my senior year,” she said. “I’ve established myself as a softball player at that point and people didn’t want to pitch to me, and it was very frustrating.

“You never really go into it, ‘They’re definitely going to walk me this game,’ but once it started happening, we figured this might happen a little more. Until people start proving they are more of a threat than I am, which started happening when (Kaylee) Tow started coming through. That makes them think a little more. We did that pretty well this year.”

Hemphill was right. More often than not, Hemphill had Tow behind her as the designated player and KB Sides after that in the 5 hole. Tow had two hits in the Arkansas series that was the last of the season, one of them a double; Sides was by far UA’s best hitter, leading the team with a .483 average and 22 RBI.

Since Hemphill scored nine runs with just two home runs, her on-base percentage of .513 was clearly contributing to the team’s 14 wins. With the experience of 2020, she hopes she can do more than just get on base in 2021.

“I was doing my job and getting on base for my teammates to hit me in, but it definitely messed with my mentality a little bit and slowed me down,” Hemphill said. “You’re seeing more balls than strikes, which kind of messes with that. I’ve had that experience and hopefully I will have a better approach to it.”

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson

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