After Bailey Hemphill injured her right foot, she sat and watched for six games.
When she came back, she started to see.
See the ball.
See it propel off her bat.
Often, see it fly out of the ballpark.
The Alabama softball team’s sophomore first baseman from Lafayette, La., was still seeing it Friday night in the first round of the Tuscaloosa Regional at Rhoads Stadium. Hemphill went 2 for 3 with a double, driving in three runs to lead the Crimson Tide to an 8-0, six-inning victory over Middle Tennessee State.
Alabama (34-18), the No. 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament, will play Wisconsin (29-21) on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in a winner’s bracket game. Wisconsin defeated Oregon State, which will play Middle Tennessee State (39-21) in an elimination game at 4.
Since returning to the lineup, Hemphill has batted 8-for-14 (.571) over seven games with four home runs and 15 RBIs, while also walking seven times, making her one of the hottest hitters in the nation.
“I didn’t have a great week of hitting (in practice),” Hemphill said, “and I was kind of nervous coming in.
“I feel like I can still improve. I’m happy with what I’m doing now and I’m looking forward to what I can do in the future.”
Said UA coach Patrick Murphy, “I thought she hit pretty good in practice this week. She’s kind of in a zone now.”
Hemphill is carrying a .342 average with a .702 slugging percentage. Not that she was hitting poorly before, but Murphy said she the right-handed hitter was pulling the ball too much earlier in the season. She’d hit foul balls home run distance. Now she’s working the middle of the field.
“The double, she smoked the middle,” he said. “That’s her money gap.”
Hemphill had some help Friday. Elissa Brown and Demi Turner went a combined 3-for-4 at the top of the lineup, with Brown also reaching on a hit-by-pitch and Turner also drawing a walk, to set the plate for the power hitters. Turner drove Brown home with a double in the first inning and scored on Hemphill’s single to right to give Alabama a 2-0 lead.
“She’s almost like an automatic double now,” Murphy said of leadoff hitter Brown, who had tow steals, “and Demi is almost as automatic getting her in.”
The Crimson Tide plated five runs in the third inning, with Brown hitting a leadoff single, stealing second and scoring on Turner’s single. After Kaylee Tow singled, Hemphill roped a double to the gap in left-center field to drive in two runs. Caroline Hardy singled in a run later in the inning to chase Blue Raiders starter Cori Jennings (21-10).
Peyton Grantham ended matters in the sixth with a leadoff home run.
Alabama starter Courtney Gettins (14-4) scattered five hits, pitching her way out of a few jams including a bases-loaded situation in the fourth inning.
“It was just a really good game to start the regional,” Murphy said.