Mari Cranek apologized to University of Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy after last season.

As a freshman, the outfielder from Needville, Texas – about an hour’s drive southwest of Houston – batted just .111. She started only seven games, and played in 31.

“I felt like I couldn’t even play softball anymore,” she said. “It was just bad.

“I was always so nervous and so tight. I had never failed so bad, so I just never knew how to get out of that.”

She spent the summer taking extra batting practice. She came into the 2017 season with a new attitude.

“This year I just went with a different approach,” Cranek said. “I just wanted to not be nervous and just play. It’s been the same game my entire life.”

Cranek had to wait for opportunities. She got to play some early, but really got her chance when outfielder Merris Schroder spent some time on the sideline after sustaining a concussion. About the time Schroder returned, second baseman Demi Turner was injured, leaving another spot open in the batting order.

Cranek has filled in admirably. She is batting .314 and has been a regular starter in center field for about the last month, making a total of 16 starts.

“Her and Merris tied for most improved player, voted on by the team,” Murphy said. “Everyone just loves her to death. But when she got that opportunity, immediately she did something good and then she did something else good. She made plays. I just think she gives confidence to everybody else.”

Cranek kept it simple when her shot came.

“I just wanted to see the ball big and take advantage of my opportunities,” she said. “And then I got to keep playing. It’s been good; it’s been a lot of fun.”

Alabama is visiting a Tennessee team that is riding an SEC-best 16-game winning streak for a three-game series that starts Saturday.



No. 9 Alabama at No. 14 Tennessee

Where: Sherri Parker Lee Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.

Schedule: Saturday at 5 p.m., Sunday at 6 p.m., Monday at 6 p.m. (all times CT)

Records: Alabama 36-7, 10-5 SEC; Tennessee 37-5, 9-3 SEC

TV: SEC Network (all three games)

Radio: 93.3 FM