Why SEC softball top teams can't rely on one pitcher in postseason tournaments

Cora Hall
Knoxville News Sentinel

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Traditionally in college softball, pitchers shoulder a heavy load in the postseason. Many teams still rely heavily on their ace once tournaments begin, but some SEC teams have begun to rely more on their pitching staff. 

The night before the SEC Tournament quarterfinals, Courtney Deifel will have her eye on Georgia vs. Ole Miss. The coach of No. 1 seeded Arkansas (41-9) has seen both teams rely on their pitching staffs this year, making preparation more challenging in the single-elimination tournament. 

“It's kind of interesting trying to pinpoint who we would get,” Deifel said. “(Madison) Kerpics is more of Georgia’s ace, but are they gonna go with her tomorrow night? Would they go with her again (Thursday)?” 

Deifel has two aces at her disposal, senior Mary Haff and junior Chenise Delce, who transferred to Arkansas from Tulsa last summer. The two right-handers have split time almost evenly all season and Deifel feels like they’re in a good spot with the pair.  

“As much as teams have relied on staffs more this year, I think when you get to this point, you're going to ride your top pitchers,” Deifel said. “If you have two that are considered aces, I think you're in a really good spot.” 

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Because of their even load, Deifel said the two are relatively  fresh going into the postseason and “feel like they’ve got a lot in the tank still.”  

“I just think that they complement each other so well and more than anything, they've had each other's backs really well,” Deifel said. “Chenise has been so great for us and this past weekend, she had a little hiccup and Mary picked it up big time, had her back and that's what it's all about. And I know Chenise has done that for her throughout the year and off and on.” 

How many innings can Montana Fouts pitch for Alabama? 

Montana Fouts pitches against Texas in Rhoads Stadium Saturday, March 5, 2022, in the Crimson Classic.

No. 2 seeded Alabama (41-10) has relied heavily on senior ace Montana Fouts, though as of late that’s more due to junior Lexi Kilfoyl sidelined with an injury. But Alabama coach Patrick Murphy wants Kilfoyl and sophomore Jaala Torrence rotating in with Fouts and Alex Salter because of how much teams have seen Fouts the last four seasons. 

Murphy said he worries about pitching Fouts too much sometimes. As a junior, Fouts pitched in all but three games of Alabama’s postseason run to the SEC Tournament title and the Women's College World Series semifinal. She threw 980 pitches in both tournaments last season and threw 308 in three games last week against Missouri. 

“I don't want to pitch her too much,” Murphy said. “But then with her, it's almost like she's Monica Abbott, the bionic woman out there. She can keep going and seems like she gets better if she throws more. So I hope that's the case.” 

Will Ashley Rogers be ready for postseason?

Tennesee's Ashley Rogers (14) throws a pitch during a Lady Vols softball game against Auburn on Senior Day, at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium, Saturday, May 7, 2022.

No. 3 seeded Tennessee (38-15) is another team that may potentially rely more on two pitchers in the postseason with senior ace Ashley Rogers battling injuries all season. Rogers pitched in all but one game in the 2021 postseason but has been sidelined for stretches this season and has only pitched three complete games since returning to the circle on April 20. 

The Lady Vols had three different starters in the last SEC series of the season. Erin Edmoundson, who has been Tennessee’s main starter, Ryleigh White and Rogers each started a game in the sweep of Auburn. All three pitched complete games, except White being relieved for the last two outs of the game. 

Tennessee coach Karen Weekly said “it’s huge” for her to have both Rogers and Edmoundson ready for the postseason. 

“I mean, we didn't have Rogers when we started at SEC play at Mizzou,” Weekly said. “This might be the first time we've had them in a back-to-back situation where we've got such quality performances out of both of them and wins over such a good offense like Auburn. So I think that's a really good sign for us heading into postseason play.”