TUSCALOOSA — After coming within one win of a fourth straight Women’s College World Series berth last season, Alabama softball will open its season Thursday against South Alabama in Mobile before heading to the Sand Dollar Classic in Gulf Shores on Friday.
An offensive resurgence and pitching depth are the two most pressing concerns for Patrick Murphy, who enters his 20th season at the helm of the conference’s most consistent softball program.
Here are five fast facts to know about the Crimson Tide:
1. Alexis and?
Two-time All-American Alexis Osorio, she of 203 innings pitched and a 1.21 ERA last season, returns for her senior season in the circle.
Beyond her right arm, little is proven about the Crimson Tide’s pitching staff after Sydney Littlejohn’s graduation and Madi Moore’s medical retirement from the sport.
Alabama added junior college transfer Courtney Gettins — a New Zealand native who pitched for the country’s national team — and freshman southpaw Madison Preston, both of whom will see immediate action.
“I think what we might do is split some games early,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said Tuesday. “The three are totally different. (Osorio is) probably the hardest thrower, Preston’s got a lot of movement — left-handed obviously — and Courtney throws different pitches than the other two.”
2. Offensive adjustments
Alabama had the Southeastern Conference’s lowest batting average (.273) and slugging percentage (.390) last season, squandering the Crimson Tide’s 1.50 team ERA.
Murphy said the team fixated on the lower half during fall drills, using both dry drills without balls and hitting off a tee to expand its strike zone and knowing which pitches to hit.
“So far in practices it’s been a lot of fun to watch, but you never know if it’s going to translate to the game,” Murphy said. “I think we’ll score more runs.”
3. Best ever?
Murphy enters his 20th season.
“I think defensively, this could be the best team we’ve ever had,” he said Tuesday.
It’s a lofty moniker — one that’s merited on paper.
Alabama could start three seniors — Demi Turner, Sydney Booker and Peyton Grantham — in the infield. Another senior, Rachel Bobo, speedy sophomore Elissa Brown and junior Merris Schroder are in the outfield mix, too.
4. Bailey bombs
Rising sophomore Bailey Hemphill showed glimmers of potential last season. She manned the middle of the Tide order as a true freshman, leading the power-deficient team with nine home runs and a .309 batting average.
Hemphill drew 57 walks, though, a number Murphy would like to see decreased in favor of run-scoring hits, especially given her spot in the order. Murphy said she’ll begin the season hitting third behind Brown and Turner, two of the fastest Alabama players.
“She’s been very, very consistent. I think her mindset is better. I think she’s probably more mature, she’s a little bit tougher, she’s got the tools,” Murphy said. “I really think if Bailey does what she’s capable of doing, she could lead the country in RBIs because the first two are going to get on.”
5. Six and six
The Tide strikes an ideal balance with six newcomers — five freshmen and a junior college transfer — to go along with its six seniors.
“The freshmen, they came in probably with the most confidence of a group that we’ve had. I’ve loved that,” Murphy said. “Between the two classes, there’s a really good balance of a lot of enthusiasm versus settling down a little bit.”