If any team finds success against the Alabama softball team this season, it will have earned every bit of it.
The Crimson Tide is spilling over with talent on offense and defense.
And the pitching staff? There is enough depth there to make Nick Saban envious.
“We have the potential to have the best pitching staff we’ve ever had with four awesome pitchers,” Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy said Sunday as the Crimson Tide hit the field for its first practice in preparation for its season opener Feb. 7 in Tallahassee, Florida, for the JoAnne Graf Classic.
Montana Fouts (21-6, 193 strikeouts, 1.39 ERA), the SEC Freshman of the Year, is back. So is SEC Pitcher of the Year Sarah Cornell (22-1, 88 strikeouts, 2.50 ERA) and senior Krystal Goodman (11-1, 71 strikeouts, 1.63 ERA). Throw in freshman sensation Lexi Kilfoyl (two-time Florida Gatorade Player of the Year), who already has a list of accomplishments a mile long, and Alabama is set.
“She has a nasty drop ball, really good change-up,” Murphy said. “During a fall scrimmage, she struck out 15 batters.”
Kilfoyl will also hit for Alabama. As a high school senior she went 14-1 in the circle with a .48 ERA, and at the plate she hit .563 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs to lead her team to a state championship.
“The biggest question mark on the team is the catching position,” Murphy said.
More on that later.
The Crimson Tide has all the pieces in place to start the season strong, just as it did in 2018, winning the first 33 games. Alabama was 60-10 last season and reached the Women’s College World Series semifinals, finishing No. 4 in the final poll.
As if the stacked pitching weren’t enough, Alabama adds more speed on the base paths with Oregon transfer Alexis Mack, who can also play infield and led the Ducks in stolen bases (24) last season. She will be in the outfield alongside the Crimson Tide’s leading base-stealer, center fielder Elissa Brown (48 of 54).
“At the first team meeting last Tuesday, I looked at both of them and told them, ‘I honestly believe you’re the two fastest kids in college softball.’ My goal is 50 each. They have to get on. Both have the green light,” Murphy said.
KB Sides is back to patrol right field. The junior found her groove late in the season when she was moved to the leadoff spot.
The Crimson Tide did lose starting senior shortstop Claire Jenkins during the fall when she tore her ACL. That means second baseman Skylar Wallace (All-SEC Freshman team in 2018) will slide over to shortstop.
“That leaves an opening at second base,” Murphy said. “You have (senior) Taylor Clark, you have Mack, KB (Sides) and Savannah Woodard. So, somebody is going to have to pick it up a bit, communication-wise. Taylor Clark is a senior so she has an opportunity there.”
Junior Maddie Morgan returns to third base, and the Crimson Tide’s two biggest hitters, Kaylee Tow and Bailey Hemphill, will split duties at first.
Second-team All-American Tow, who dealt with a shoulder injury for much of last season, had 10 home runs and 62 RBIs last season along with a team-leading 14 doubles.
Hemphill, a second-team All-American, set the single-season school record for home runs (26) and RBIs (84) and led the team with a .375 batting average and 72 hits.
Which brings us back to catching.
“Bailey can do it, but she doesn’t need to catch 65 games,” Murphy said. “Karla (Hice) is going to have to step up and get in there. Even if she caught 20 games, that would be a really good thing for Bailey.”