Alabama Softball looks to return to form in 2023

Blake Byler, Sports Editor

Team 27 is finally here. 

After a disappointing end to the 2022 season that resulted in elimination in the final game of the NCAA Regionals at the hands of Stanford, head coach Patrick Murphy is ready to lead a revamped Crimson Tide softball roster into the 2023 season. 

Last season’s team was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation and had Women’s College World Series aspirations, but poor hitting and the inability to bring in runners in scoring position ultimately led to the demise of a once-promising team.  

Following the season, there was a drastic shift in the personnel that made up the team, with six players entering the NCAA Transfer Portal: Dallis Goodnight, Megan Bloodworth, Lexi Kilfoyl, Jenna Lord, Abby Doerr and Savannah Woodard. 

Despite what transpired at the end of last season, Murphy and his team are more focused on the future, rather than the past. 

“We really haven’t talked about [last season] much at all,” Murphy said. “It seems like a long time ago, but right when we started in August, we put that to bed, and started focusing on Team 27. Everyone is highly motivated. … We’ve used the offseason to learn and grow and get better, the players, the coaching staff, everybody. I think if you’re not a lifelong learner in this league you’re going to get your butt run over by the competition. You have to continuously invent yourself as a coach and as a person, and I think our entire program has done that this year from the top down.” 

While the departures certainly hurt Alabama’s depth, the Crimson Tide also returned its core players from last season, starting with star pitcher Montana Fouts.  

Fouts, now in her fifth and final year of eligibility, is a three-time NFCA All-American, three-time first team All-SEC selection, and has a wealth of other accolades and honors that place her in the upper echelon of not only Alabama softball players, but collegiate pitchers in general. She will once again be Alabama’s ace and was unsurprisingly a preseason All-SEC selection.  

Fouts spent part of her offseason playing for Team USA in the 2022 World Games in Birmingham, Alabama, where she took home a gold medal.  

“It was so great to learn from [those players],” Fouts said. “There were some great pitchers on staff that are still reaching out to me today. I get to learn from them, and that’s something that I get to take [with me].” 

Joining Fouts as a preseason All-SEC selection is catcher Ally Shipman. Shipman joined Alabama last season as a transfer from Tennessee and was the Crimson Tide’s most consistent batter, leading the team with a .350 average and 46 RBIs. She also added eight home runs, good for second on the team. Shipman is using her fifth year of eligibility as well, along with third baseman Ashley Prange who placed second on the team in batting average and matched Shipman’s eight home runs. 

Junior shortstop Bailey Dowling — Alabama’s home run leader in 2022 — and senior outfielder Jenna Johnson round out the core returners. While it’s important that the top four bats from last season return, batting was undoubtedly the team’s weakest point come season’s end. The Crimson Tide did not score more than four runs in a game from an April 24 game against Texas A&M all the way until Regionals in late May.  

To help with this, Murphy was aggressive in both the transfer portal and on the recruiting trail to fill the holes left in the roster after its postseason shakeup. One of the biggest additions was Ball State transfer Faith Hensley, the 2022 MAC Player of the Year and a career .389 batter. Hensley was named to the USA Softball Player of the Year watch list — joining Fouts as Alabama’s only players on the list — and boasts a career on-base percentage of .499, a Ball State record. 

“Honestly, I had an opportunity to go on some amazing visits, and I didn’t see a clear frontrunner in my head going into those opportunities,” Hensley said. “All of that kind of took a turn the second I stepped on campus here [at Alabama].” 

The transfer class rounds out with of North Alabama transfer Emma Broadfoot, a career .344 hitter, and Michigan transfer Lauren Esman, who Murphy plans to use as pitching staff depth behind Fouts.  

Fouts will be the workhorse of the pitching staff once again, and will likely pitch multiple full games over the course of a series. Despite this, the Crimson Tide will need depth behind her, and Esman looks to fill that role alongside returning juniors Alex Salter and Jaala Torrence who have seen sparing action in meaningful series in their Crimson Tide careers.  

The final additions to the roster come in the form of a star-studded freshman class. The class features three-time Alabama All-State selection Kristen White, consensus top-50 recruit Abby Duchscherer, 2022 Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year Larissa Preuitt, 2022 Premier Girls Fastpitch All-American Marlie Giles, and Kenleigh Cahalan — the No. 1 player in the 2023 class who reclassified and became eligible to play for the Crimson Tide this season. 

“We have eight newcomers,” Murphy said. “I think it’s a very, very athletic class. … As the fall progressed, day, after day, after day, it was the athleticism of the team. I think we have seven ‘green light’ girls, which means they have the green light to steal at any time. … Very athletic and very interchangeable.” 

There are mixed opinions about the expectations for Murphy’s team in the preseason. The Crimson Tide ranks as high as No. 6 nationally across all major softball rankings, but in the preseason SEC poll Alabama was selected fourth by SEC coaches.  

The Crimson Tide will be tested very early in the schedule with a loaded field in the TaxAct Clearwater Invitational that takes place from Feb. 16-19. Alabama will face the likes of Indiana, No. 19 Duke, No. 18 UCF, No. 4 Florida State and No. 2 UCLA. 

“To get to play those five [teams], basically on a neutral site in the second weekend, it’s a huge, huge win for our schedule,” Murphy said. 

Additionally, Alabama will face No. 9 Texas in the Bevo Classic before SEC play starts. Once again, the conference is stacked, but the Crimson Tide benefits from not having to play preseason favorite Florida in the regular season. 

Alabama opens its SEC slate against 2022 SEC Champion Arkansas and will travel for notable road series against No. 12 Tennessee and No. 23 Missouri before closing the season with series against No. 20 LSU and hosting No. 21 Auburn — the first time Alabama’s bitter rival will have played at Rhoads Stadium since 2017. 

The loaded schedule gives Alabama plenty of chance to prove itself and get better, with of course one primary goal in mind: playing softball in June and returning to the WCWS. The Crimson Tide’s journey begins this weekend in the Leadoff Classic at Rhoads Stadium, with a doubleheader on Friday and Saturday against Georgia Southern and Lehigh. Alabama’s first pitch of the 2023 season will be at 3:30 p.m. CT on Feb. 10. 

Questions or comments? Email Blake Byler (Sports Editor) at [email protected]