The Alabama softball team went into super regional play in the NCAA Tournament a year ago hardly able to buy a hit. It scored the winning run in its regional on a bases-loaded walk.
That’s not the case in 2018. The 12th-seeded Crimson Tide will visit fifth-seeded Washington for a best-of-three series starting Friday on a roll, and with some potent bats.
“We’re just having good at-bats all the way around, and we don’t have as many holes in the lineup,” UA coach Patrick Murphy said. “Last year, we’d have three people get a hit and the next six would (get out). You’re not going to score many runs like that.”
The lineup is more balanced now than it was a year ago, and more capable.
The Crimson Tide hit just 37 home runs in 64 games all last season; it has hit 51 in 10 less games so far in 2018. While Alabama’s .279 batting average is just six points higher than it was last season, UA has struck out 39 less times and driven in eight more runs in those 10 less games by comparison.
Alabama’s hitters have been more aggressive.
“Murph challenged us this week to pick a zone and attack that zone aggressively swinging the bat,” catcher Reagan Dykes said after the Tuscaloosa Regional. “That’s what the hitters have been focused on, getting a good pitch and attack it hard.”
Of Alabama’s 22 hits in three games in the regional, 10 were for extra bases, including four home runs. Those long balls came from four different players, showing power up and down the lineup.
“The hitting has come around,” Murphy said.
The Crimson Tide scored 23 runs on those 22 hits, a measure of how efficient the lineup is. In three games, Alabama stranded just 10 runners: it’s not just getting players on base, it’s driving them in.
Leadoff hitter Elissa Brown batted .571 in the regional and Demi Turner, who bats second, hit .667. Between them they had 10 hits and drew two walks and scored 10 runs.
“We just are trying to command the strike zone, like not swinging at just anything,” Brown said. “We’re more confident and going up there aggressive but not swinging out of our shoes.”
First baseman Bailey Hemphill has wielded the biggest bat. She went 4-for-6 in the regional with two doubles and a home run to produce seven RBIs. She was also walked four times.
“She can flat-out hit,” Oregon State coach Laura Berg said.
With eight wins in its last nine games and nine in its last 12 — all coming against teams that made the NCAA Tournament field, and nine of those games against teams ranked in the top 15 — Alabama believes in itself.
“It’s easier to be more aggressive when you’re confident,” Hemphill said. “Just being aggressive and having confidence is the key to success.”
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.
Seattle Super Regional
No. 12 Alabama at No. 5 Washington
Where: Husky Softball Stadium in Seattle
Schedule: Friday at 8 p.m. CT, Saturday at 6 p.m. CT, Sunday (if necessary) at 6 p.m. CT
Records: Alabama 36-18, Washington 47-8
TV: ESPNU on Friday and Sunday (if necessary), ESPN2 on Saturday
Nickname: Crimson Tide
Ranking: No. 13
Bid: At large
National seed: No. 12
Head coach: Patrick Murphy
Team batting average: .279
Home runs: 51
Earned run average: 2.38
Top hitters: Elissa Brown (.357, 0 HR, 14 RBI), Gabby Callaway (.311, 4 HR, 32 RBI), Bailey Hemphill (.350, 13 HR, 41 RBI), Kaylee Tow (.340, 11 HR, 31 RBI)
Top pitchers: Courtney Gettins (14-4, 2.37 ERA, 66 SO, 56 BB), Alexis Osorio (15-9, 2.10 ERA, 219 SO, 115 BB), Madison Preston (7-5, 3.04 ERA, 44 SO, 37 BB)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Ranking: No. 5
Bid: At large
National seed: No. 5
Head coach: Heather Tarr
Team batting average: .316
Home runs: 56
Earned run average: 1.253
Top Hitters: Sis Bates (.402, 5 HR, 33 RBI), Kelly Burdick (.354, 0 HR, 12 RBI), Kristyn Thomas (.345, 12 HR, 53 RBI), Taylor Van Zee (.369, 8 HR, 37 RBI)
Top Pitchers: Taran Alvelo (21-4, 1.16 ERA, 221 SO, 34 BB), Gabbie Plain (19-4, 1.03 ERA, 163 SO, 32 BB)