By Cody Estremera
Alabama softball begins its season on Friday with an appearance in the Trojan Classic, which takes place in Troy, Alabama. In the three-day tournament, the Crimson Tide will play Troy, Maryland and Murray State.
“It’s just fun to go somewhere different,” coach Patrick Murphy said. “It’s an inexpensive trip for five games. There’s no plane ride, just a three-hour bus ride, which is easy, so it’s a good opening weekend for us.”
Even though Alabama made it to a super regional last year, it failed to reach the Women's College World Series for the second consecutive season. The team had issues in defense and control, leading the SEC in errors (55) and walks by a pitching staff (215).
“That’s not typical for us,” Murphy said. “You’re not going to win the close games if you’re giving up walks and errors.”
Consistent hitting was also a problem as Alabama finished the season with a .273 average, 10th in the league.
Unlike last year, Murphy now has a full pitching staff, going from three to five. Two, Courtney Gettins and Madison Preston, were on roster in 2018. Freshman Montana Fouts is a hard-throwing right-hander with the potential to be the primary starter. Sarah Cornell is the reigning Colonial Athletic Association Pitcher of the Year, while Krystal Goodman is the NJCAA Division-1 Softball Pitcher of the Year.
“How do you scout five people, and how do you prepare for five people?” Murphy said.
Goodman will start the season opener against Murray State, followed by Fouts, who will pitch against Troy in the later game. Cornell will start the first Saturday game, followed by Gettins.
Outside of his wealth of pitchers, Murphy also has a lot of hitters, 13 to be exact. For players to understand the dilemma he has, he passed out a “get to know me” sheet. Players filled out questions like: favorite spot in the lineup/ least favorite, what position do you think you should play, what pitches do you like/ not like and favorite type of execution.
Alongside the questionnaire, players had to turn in a lineup.
“I think about five minutes into it, they realized how difficult it was going to be for me to do a lineup,” Murphy said.
Only one player was unanimous in her position and spot in the order. Ellissa Brown was selected as the leadoff hitter and to play center field.
Before the season, Brown was selected to the USA Softball Player of the Year Top 50 Watch List. Her goal is to steal 50 bases this year.
“If her on base percentage can get above.425, .450, we’re going to be rolling,” Murphy said. “If she gets on, it’s a double…. She’s probably the fastest kid we’ve ever had. You just have to take advantage of her wheels.”
Slugger Bailey Hemphill led Alabama in home runs with 13 last season, while outfielder Kaylee Tow is looking to build on her strong freshman season (.327 average and a team-high 49 RBIs).
Something else new Murphy did was name captains back during the fall, Gettins and senior catcher Reagan Dykes.
“They just make a great pair of leaders,” Murphy said. “They’re really different too in their styles…. It’s a good mix.”
Alabama enters the season ranked No. 9 in the preseason NFCA poll and No. 11 in the USA Softball poll. It finished last year 36-20 record, 12-12 in SEC play, and No. 14 in both national polls.