The Alabama softball team has hit 37 doubles and eight triples through 36 games, exactly the same as last year.
The 15th-ranked Crimson Tide has, however, hit nine more home runs than it had last year at this time: 34 compared to 25. Alabama hit just 37 home runs in 64 games all last season and could equal that with three more long balls this weekend at No. 19 Arkansas.
Offensive improvement was a point of emphasis for the Crimson Tide coming into the season, and the increase in home runs is the key data point that shows a trend in the direction head coach Patrick Murphy wanted. Bailey Hemphill, who led the team with nine home runs last season, already has eight this year. She shares the team lead with freshman Kaylee Tow. Six players last year hit three or more homers all season, while five have already achieved that mark this year.
“There needs to be a threat of a batter per inning,” Murphy said. “It can’t be just, ‘Oh, here comes Bailey again, we’ve got to worry about this kid.’ It has to be somebody every inning. There is power potential and it’s been a lot more fun the last two or three weekends.
“At least it gives (opponents), in the back of their mind, uh-oh, we can’t make a mistake.”
In the latter portion of the 2017 season, Alabama seemed to need to hold an opposing team scoreless or to one run to have a chance. This year, UA has been able to win some higher-scoring games.
Murphy went to an eraser board this week to illustrate increases in on-base percentages and RBIs since SEC play started four weekends ago.
“Everybody’s on-base percentage has gone up probably 50 to 100 points since the last time we did it,” he said.
Hemphill, who is batting .326, is one of the most dependable power hitters, leading UA with 31 RBIs. She and Tow are in a race to lead the team in homers.
“It’s not something we talk about,” she said. “We get excited for anyone who hits a home run.”
Playing for a team that can score has made playing more enjoyable.
“It makes the game a little more interesting, obviously,” she said. “It kind of takes the pressure off. When you’re scoring runs and especially if we’re behind 3-2 or 3-0, we know we can score runs to come back and win a game. We’ve shown that we can do that. It just builds confidence in us.”
It also makes the Crimson Tide more dangerous heading into the second half of the conference schedule.
“You never feel like you’re out of a game,” Murphy said. “That’s what’s exciting about this team. There’s people who are capable of doing it.”
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.
No. 15 Alabama at No. 19 Arkansas
Where: Bogle Park in Fayetteville, Ark.
Schedule: Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 11 a.m., Sunday at 1 p.m.
Records: Alabama 25-11, 6-6 SEC; Arkansas 31-8, 6-6 SEC
TV: ESPNU (Saturday only)
Radio: 93.3 FM