Bailey Hemphill wasn’t swinging for the fences Friday night.
The Alabama softball team’s sophomore slugger was aiming well beyond that.
Hemphill, in her second game back after missing six games with a lower leg injury, powered the 17th-ranked Crimson Tide to a 6-2 victory over ninth-ranked Texas A&M at Rhoads Stadium.
Alabama improved to 30-17, 10-12 in SEC play, in winning the series opener against the Aggies, who fell to 40-13, 13-9 in conference.
Hemphill connected on the second pitch she saw with a savagely correct swing that launched a ball that may have ended up in lower earth orbit had it not hit the upper right-hand corner of the scoreboard in left-center field. The impact of bat on ball sounded like a thunderclap, and brought the crowd of nearly 3,000 to its feet as three runs crossed the plate.
She followed that first-inning home run with a single her next time up, then finished her night with a sacrifice fly to bring in an insurance run. In her two games back, Hemphill is 4-for-5 with two home runs and seven RBIs – all against two top-10 teams.
“Everyone says when you get a little time off and you come back you feel a little better,” Hemphill said. “Swinging just to swing, I’m not thinking, being carefree in the box. It’s paying off.
“I honestly didn’t know I hit it that far. I thought I just got it over because I saw the ball coming back and I thought maybe I hit the pole, and they were like, ‘No, you hit the scoreboard.’ Thankfully it went over.”
Said Alabama coach Patrick Murphy, “She’s that type of hitter. I really believe that the best days for her are yet to come. I really believe she’s going to be one of the best hitters we’ve ever had.”
Alabama ace Alexis Osorio (13-8) settled down after a rocky first couple of innings to go the distance, allowing two runs on three hits with eight strikeouts and five walks.
After A&M scored in the top of the first inning on Ashley Walters’ RBI double, Alabama took the lead in the bottom of the inning when Hemphill clobbered her homer. Second baseman Demi Turner and outfielder Kaylee Tow hit singles to set up the big shot.
Tori Vidales doubled in a run for the Aggies in the top of the second inning, but Alabama again answered. Outfielder Merris Schroder hit a leadoff single and moved to second when catcher Reagan Dykes placed down a perfect sacrifice bunt with two strikes. Center fielder Elissa Brown reached on an error with two outs and Schroder came all the way around from second base to score to make it 4-2.
In the fifth, third baseman Claire Jenkins drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on Brown’s sac bunt and scored on Turner’s single up the middle. Turner advanced to second on the failed throw home and moved to third when Tow singled off lefty reliever Payton McBride. Hemphill hit a sacrifice fly to center field to bring in Turner, making it 6-2.
Trinity Harrington (13-3) took the loss after giving up six runs on six hits in 4 1/3 innings.
The series is scheduled to resume Saturday at noon.
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.