Trio of shutouts lead to Softball sweep of the Crimson Classic

Robert Cortez, Staff Reporter

No. 3/4 Alabama softball (14-0) used a trio of shutouts to down NCAA Tournament regional hopefuls, North Carolina (5-5) and Troy (13-3). 

Game One

The 2-0 win over North Carolina was fueled by career and season firsts for sophomore Lexi Kilfoyl (5-0; .23 ERA) in the circle and graduate student Bailey Hemphill at the dish. 

In her sixth appearance and fourth start of the season, Kilfoyl tossed her first no-hitter with 84 pitches in the afternoon. Kilfoyl struck out eight batters, her second highest total this season, and allowed a single walk. 

“She’s a drop-ball pitcher and when it is working it’s just the hardest thing to lay off,” head coach Patrick Murphy said. “It looks like it’s coming right onto the plane and it’s like, well, I’m going to hit this one and then boom, it falls off the table.”

Graduate student Bailey Hemphill’s first inning home run was her first of the season and Alabama’s winning run of the game, but it also bolstered the argument that Hemphill may be the best hitter in Alabama history. Hemphill’s 51st career home run allowed her to move into the fourth spot for most career RBIs in an Alabama uniform, 192, surpassing four-time All-American Kelly Kretschman. Murphy stated in order to accomplish what Hemphill has, one must be “confident and consistent.”

“It definitely describes Bailey, just to bring a consistent presence every game game in and game out,” Murphy said. 

Graduate student Taylor Clark also picked up her first hit on the season in the bottom of the fifth inning. The Alabama offense only put up a season-low four hits on the scoreboard with one from Kilfoyl, which scored the second and final run of the game. For the first time this season, Alabama was unable to draw a walk and finished the game with a .190 batting average. 

Game Two

Junior Montana Fouts (6-0; 1.47 ERA) followed Kilfoyl’s performance with a two-hit complete game effort of her own in Alabama’s 4-0 win to improve to 13-0 on the season. 

Fouts retired 12 batters via the strikeout, which marked her fourth game with double digit strikeouts and is the second most in a game this season. The Kentucky native leads the pitching staff with 61 strikeouts and has 27 more than the next leading contender in Kilfoyl. Fouts’ put-away pitch Friday night against Memphis was the riseball, but used her curveball against the Tar Heels.

Murphy believed Fouts’ success with the curveball was because she was able to “be smooth and not try to overthrow it.”

Graduate student Elissa Brown contributed to Alabama’s four run fourth inning on her senior day with a RBI single to score sophomore Savannah Woodard and give the Crimson Tide a 2-0 advantage. 

The first run scored for Alabama came off a controversial call with two-outs. Kilfoyl rolled a ground ball to short, but the throw pulled the North Carolina first baseman off the bag and the umpire stated that she never touched the bag to record the out. Senior Kaylee Tow made the heads up play to come around and score as the defense was focused on what the call the first base umpire was going to make. North Carolina’s coaches came out to converse with the umpires, but the call stood. The Crimson Tide added three more insurance runs in the inning; including Brown’s RBI.

Game Three

For the second time this weekend Kilfoyl (6-0; .16 ERA) made quick work of the opposition and pitched a shutout, but this time against Troy on Sunday, Feb. 28, in Alabama’s 2-0 win to complete the sweep of the Easton Crimson Classic. 

In seven innings of work, the Florida native gave up three hits, one walk and nine strikeouts. Six of her strikeouts came with runners on base and stated that was due to her ability zone in and focus on the “spin” of her pitches. 

“I really focus on spinning my pitches and making sure I’m going right after the batter,” Kilfoyl said. 

Kilfoyl has now thrown 18 consecutive scoreless innings, dating back to her start against LSU on Feb. 20, in the Easton Bama Bash. 

Graduate student Alexis Mack was responsible for both hits in the game and the offense finished with under a .200 batting average on the day. Despite the offensive struggles against both the Tar Heels and Trojans, Murphy found a positive in being the team was able to get experience in playing in a close game. 

“These close games are very good for us, because everybody needs to feel that anxiety,” Murphy said. “It’s good for everybody because you can’t really recreate that anxiety and practice.”

In games like it’s one against Troy where runs are at a premium, base running can be the difference between a win and a loss according to Murphy. Every practice time is dedicated to base running and in the fourth inning Murphy saw a heads up baserunning play come to fruition by junior Kayla Davis. Dowling’s sacrifice bunt to move Davis into scoring position created a defense collapse, which allowed third base to be open and Davis took advantage of it and came around to score because of an error by the defense trying to get Davis out at third.  

“We spend a lot of time on it [baserunning]” Murphy said. “Great baserunning positives for us today basically won the game.”

The Crimson Tide will resume action on Wednesday, Mar. 3, in a non-conference game against No. 25 Mississippi State. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT at Rhoads Stadium.