As Alabama softball struggled through its SEC schedule, losing five out of eight league series, coach Patrick Murphy shared a realization with his Crimson Tide team.
“I’ve had pretty much 19 years of easy,” he told them, “and the softball gods are saying, ‘Not this year, buddy. We’re going to make you work for it.’”
Injuries played a part. So did errors, lack of timely hitting and pitching that gave up far too many walks. Alabama was headed toward not hosting an NCAA regional after playing at home in the postseason for 13 straight years.
“So I was like, just bring it on and face it,” Murphy said. “If you’re in a slump, get yourself out of it by working harder.”
Players started putting in extra time in the batting cages. But they didn’t come alone: “They didn’t just say, ‘I’m going to go hit,’ they said, ‘I’m going to go hit and you’re coming with me,’” Murphy said.
Alabama won eight of nine games starting in late April through the Tuscaloosa Regional. The Crimson Tide extended its 11-year streak of regional victories to 37 in a row and reached the super regional round of the NCAA Tournament for the 14th consecutive year. Along the way, UA won its opening game in the SEC Tournament for the 19th straight year and finished 12-12 in the league to avoid its first-ever losing record in conference play.
“They kept a lot of our streaks together when it looked like it wouldn’t happen,” Murphy said. “They turned it on when they needed to.”
Alabama lost at Washington, the national runner-up, to end its season with a 36-20 record.
The Crimson Tide will have to replace key pieces in 2019: ace pitcher Alexis Osorio, a two-time All-American, along with shortstop Sydney Booker and second baseman Demi Turner, among others.
Returning are outfielder Kaylee Tow, a second-team All-American as a freshman, and first baseman Bailey Hemphill, who combined for 24 home runs. Alabama also brings back catcher Reagan Dykes and the entire outfield, led by leadoff hitter Elissa Brown.
The incoming class includes two 6-foot-2 pitchers: Montana Fouts, the Gatorade Player of the Year in Kentucky and Krystal Goodman of Chipola (Fla.) College, who has been named national junior college pitcher of the year by Fastpitchnews.com. Georgia prep standout Skylar Wallace brings speed and athleticism, as does North Carolina product Kloyee Anderson, with Kayla Davis adding a potential big bat.
Murphy told the 2018 team at its postseason meeting in Seattle how it just missed a better a chance at returning to the Women’s College World Series. He talked about close losses that could have turned series losses to Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Auburn into series wins.
“You turn those four around in the regular season, where are we at right now if we win those four games? We’re playing at home (in the super regional),” he said. “We’re the 12 seed and everybody feels like we had a horrible year. We still hosted a regional, won the regional, and you’re very, very close.
“I don’t know if it was my fault; at times I felt like if I did say, ‘We have to do this,’ they would feel that outside pressure.”
Murphy will count on his new seniors – Dykes, outfielder Merris Schroder, pitcher Courtney Gettins and key reserve Caroline Hardy – to bring it all together.
“I think the senior class coming up are going to be really good leaders,” he said. “I think I’m going to be really happy with all four.”
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.