The University of Alabama softball team’s season came to an end last weekend when the Crimson Tide lost two out of three games at top-seeded Florida in the NCAA Tournament to finish with a 47-17 record.
Alabama had to twice defeat top-ranked Minnesota to extend its streak of advancing to the super regional round to 13 years. UA remains the only school to have made it to the round of 16 in every year since that format was adopted.
Alabama played its best ball in the postseason after a rocky, up-and-down year, and finished a couple of runs short of making a fourth straight trip to the Women’s College World Series.
The Tuscaloosa News caught up with head coach Patrick Murphy, who was visiting his mother in Iowa, by telephone for a Q&A.
Q: You’ve had a few days to process the end of the season. How much are you disappointed that you didn’t get one more win to make it back to the World Series, and how much are you feeling pride over the way the team turned it around at the end to get as far as it did?
A: Once you get to Oklahoma City (for the World Series), the ultimate goal is always to go back – that’s kind of been, basically, the history of the program to be up there. This was the senior class that really wanted to go all four years (of their careers), which would have been the first (class) ever.
Although they missed it just by a game and maybe two runs, I was really proud of how much adversity they faced head-on. I was really proud of them for that. They never backed down. I think the biggest thing about this team was when they did face adversity, they went right after whatever we were supposed to do; they worked harder, they worked smarter and nobody gave up. That’s probably the best legacy this team will carry forward.
Q: Was there a point before the postseason where maybe you were beginning to wonder if things would ever turn around?
A: Probably at Ole Miss (at the end of April), after the two walk-off losses, that was really tough. Because we had two at Tennessee, we had two against Ole Miss, we had one at Missouri, and then the nine-inning loss to Auburn on that Friday night (the weekend after the Ole Miss series) was equally tough. So they went through a stretch there where they could have easily folded their tents and said this not going to happen this year, and that’s really one of the best things about them was they kept fighting and trying to get better.
It was much better at the end of the Auburn series and going up to Knoxville for the SEC Tournament. I had so many people say after regional was over that it was a totally different team and just everybody looked confident. You just never know what’s going to spark a team.
I think really the expectation at Alabama and the postseason is what did it. They didn’t want to be the team that didn’t make it to super regionals.
Q: So when you look at it now and you see who made it to Oklahoma City and how they made it to the World Series, do you think your team was, the way they were playing at the end, one of the best eight teams?
A: Oh, I think so. I think if it was a different seed or whatever – (Minnesota pitcher Sara) Groenewegen will probably be a first-team All-American and (Florida pitcher) Kelly Barnhill will be a first-team All-American, probably (Florida pitcher) Delanie Gourley will be an All-American, and we faced all three of them the last two weekends – so without a doubt we faced what was the toughest road that we ever have faced to get there. To be one run short is a huge feat in itself.
Q: When you look at the offensive problems, what do you think that stemmed from and what are your thoughts on how to correct it?
A: I just think that No. 1, good hitting is contagious; and No. 2, bad hitting is also contagious, and unfortunately it kind of spread. I even told them one time, ‘You know, this isn’t like the flu. You don’t get it from somebody else. I can understand one or two of you going through some tough times, but not nine people in the lineup.’ For whatever reason, it just continued.
We were winning 1-0, 1-0 and we had really good team defense down the stretch and the pitching was there, and we finally got a couple key hits that won some games for us.
I looked at some of the numbers, compared last year to this year, and there were people that are 100 points off (their batting average) and kids that had 12 less home runs than they did last year. It was just this one poor year.
But we’re definitely going to do offensive things in the fall and we’re obviously going to address it a lot as a coaching staff when everybody gets back, and just hopefully get out of it. I know that there are so many people that are better hitters than what they showed. Instead of having a career-low year, we needed somebody to have a career-high year, and we didn’t have many of those.
Q: Do you also look at the power numbers? Will there be any look at the strength program or any tweaks that need to be made there? You probably led the world in warning-track outs.
A: I know. I don’t know if it’s the bats, if it’s the strength and technique, there’s so many things that go into it. If you look around the league, the power numbers weren’t there to begin with. This year was just a weird year offensively for a lot of teams, but we’ll definitely look at some things for next fall.
Q: What excites you about the freshman class coming in?
A: They’re a really good bunch of athletes. They can play a bunch of positions, they’ve all played at a high level of summer ball. Several have won state championships (in high school), a couple of them will probably be the player of the year in their state. A lot of schools in the country were after them and we’re just excited to get them all here.
Q: How much do you think the late-season upturn can be attributed to Demi Turner returning (from a fractured eye socket) and being back in the lineup?
A: Oh gosh, a bunch. Down in Florida she lost her voice and could barely talk. It was strange in that way that she was a huge part of our program but at the very end she couldn’t speak. And (Rachel) Bobo stepped up and other people stepped up.
But we really, really missed Demi and obviously it showed; her coming back and going 2-for-3 in the very first game that she got in against a team (Minnesota) and a girl who was probably one of the best pitchers in the country was huge. But we need a Demi that’s healthy for 56 games next year.
Q: You mentioned Rachel Bobo. How much of a pleasant surprise was she going from pinch runner to being one of your toughest …
A: Outs. It was just an amazing surprise. It couldn’t happen to a nicer kid – almost a 4.0 (grade-point average), chemical engineering major, a walk-on who does everything she’s supposed to do, is all about the team. And when she gets an opportunity she just runs with it, and I know she’s going to work her tail off this summer and she’s going to force somebody to beat her out in the fall. That’s what we need; she’s going to be very competitive, and I think people are going to recognize that.
Q: Finally, what do you most look forward to going into next year?
A: We lost three seniors, only one position player – Marissa (Runyon) was the (designated player), Sydney (Littlejohn) was a pitcher and Chandler Dare was an outfielder – so we basically have two pitchers coming in and some kids that are really, really hungry to get it done. No matter how many you lose or how many you have coming back, every year is a different year. It’s a different team chemistry, and that’s what’s so exciting about being in the college atmosphere because somebody gets a year older, a year wiser, but you get these new kids coming in who are new to the process. How they are molded and how they end up, that’s really exciting to the coaches and the staff.
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.