How Bailey Hemphill's move to second in the batting order sparked the offense for Alabama softball during WCWS run

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

OKLAHOMA CITY — Every fall, Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy brings his hitters into the classroom and gives them the same handout.

The Responsibilities of the Offensive Lineup.

And they read it out loud. Paragraph by paragraph.

“Like we’re back in the first grade,” Murphy told The Tuscaloosa News.

Each batter takes a paragraph of the piece, which goes 1-9 and has about two paragraphs for each spot in the lineup. The role, goals for the spot and little things Murphy’s staff has taught them over the years are all included. 

It’s important Crimson Tide batters become well-versed in each role. They never know when they might be in a new spot in the order, even spots that might be unconventional for their skill sets.

Look no further than catcher Bailey Hemphill, the SEC Player of the Year.

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Murphy moved her to the two hole late in the season, an unconventional softball decision that has paid off for Alabama. The Crimson Tide (52-7) has defeated No. 2 UCLA and No. 11 Arizona in the Women’s College World Series by a combined score of 11-1. 

Alabama is also riding a 20-game win streak, and Hemphill has been in the two spot for 15 straight games.

“I think it was one of the keys to our offense down the stretch,” Murphy said.

It’s not the conventional decision to put Hemphill second in the order because she’s a power hitter. She holds Alabama’s record for home runs and leads the Crimson Tide this season with 13.

Also, Murphy has often wanted the two hole to have versatility, such as a lefty who can slap, bunt or hit away when needed. Speed is also a common presence among the top of many batting orders.

With Hemphill’s power, the three, four or five hole would be the more common spots.

But she isn’t common. She’s the best right-handed hitter Murphy has ever had, he said after the Arizona game. 

“The two spot really should be in sync with the coach more than anybody else,” he said. “If (leadoff Alex) Mack steals, she’s got to take. And sometimes, she can be up with 0-2 with a runner at second, and not many kids can handle that. She can.”

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This isn’t the first time they’ve done this. Murphy said they also shaped the lineup this way for a little bit two years ago.

It can be smart to have the best hitter at two, regardless of speed or versatility, depending on the players filling those spots and how talented they are. Right now, the talent and ability is there. Mack has a .467 on-base percentage, second-highest on the Crimson Tide behind Hemphill (.584).

When Mack gets on base, a Hemphill hit to the gap usually will give Alabama a run. Then there are the times where Mack steals, something she has done 25 times this season, also ranked first for the Crimson Tide.

“Then the other team has to decide: ‘Am I going to walk (Hemphill)? Or am I going to let her swing with a runner in scoring position?’” Murphy said. “It’s a very tough situation for the opposing team.”

Many teams go the walk route. Hemphill tied the all-time lead for walks among SEC players during the game against UCLA. The Bruins walked her twice and Arizona walked her once.

And if they walk Hemphill, that often puts two runners on base right away. Then Kaylee Tow can step to the plate and hit a three-run home run, like she did against UCLA on Friday.

Alabama hitter Bailey Hemphill (16) celebrates as she crosses the plate after hitting a two-run home run against Tennessee during the SEC Tournament in Rhoads Stadium  Friday, May 14, 2021. [Pool Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

And sometimes, Hemphill hitting in the two hole can become the three, where she spent most of her time before the switch. Murphy said he considers Elissa Brown a double leadoff hitter with her batting ninth, which can sometimes means she can bat first and Mack bats second.

“If those two can get on, then really we create havoc with Bailey in the two spot,” Murphy said.

Alabama and Hemphill will look to continue havoc creation on Sunday, one win away from the WCWS finals.