Recap | Softball powers through to SEC championship game

Robert Cortez, Staff Reporter

In No. 3 Alabama softball’s (44-7; 2-0 postseason) quarterfinal game on Thursday night, graduate student Bailey Hemphill tied program history with her 60th career home run. In Friday night’s semifinal game, Hemphill rewrote it. 

The Lafayette, La. native’s program leading 61st home run was a two-run dinger to deep center field. Hemphill’s home run gave the Crimson Tide a 6-5 lead over No. 19 Tennessee (41-13; 2-1 postseason ) to secure their second consecutive appearance in the SEC championship game. 

“At the moment I didn’t even care about the record,” Hemphill said. “I was just happy that it put us ahead.”

Alabama fan Amy Lovelace said Hemphill’s home run was an “extraordinary moment” for the fans in Rhoads Stadium. 

“This place erupted and everyone was super excited,” Lovelace said. “Knowing that she had also broken the record for career home runs was awesome.”

Hemphill was not the only Alabama player to blast a two-run home run against the Lady Vols. Fellow graduate student Taylor Clark did so in the third frame, giving Alabama a 4-1 lead. The home run was Clark’s first of the season and her first in conference play during her career in Tuscaloosa. 

“It was a great moment and the celebration meant more to me than the actual hit,” Clark said. 

Clark said that the home run and the overall “work ethic” going into the game was dedicated to freshman Bailey Dowling and graduate student Claire Jenkins, who were both shortstops prior to their injuries. 

“I pulled [Dowling and Jenkins] aside the one day before for a game and told them, ‘I’m playing for you and I’m working my butt off for you,’ ” Clark said. 

Head Coach Patrick Murphy said the game was “pressure packed and anxiety filled,” which he said the team needed to experience as it heads into the rest of the postseason.

Sophomore Lexi Kilfoyl (11-3; 1.89 ERA) came into a close game in the sixth inning to relieve junior Montana Fouts (21-3; 1.68 ERA). Kilfoyl’s 19th appearance of the year marked her first time trotting into the circle since April 10 because of an injury. 

The Florida native’s time in the circle was short. She recorded one out and gave up two runs, which allowed Tennessee to capture its lone lead of the game, 5-4. Despite her rocky return, Murphy said he believes Kilfoyl needed to get back to the circle before NCAA postseason play begins. 

Fouts reentered the game after Kilfoyl walked her second hitter of the inning, and Hemphill said a different version of the Kentucky native returned to the circle — a more dominant one. 

“Montana just coming in, there was a different look in her eyes in the final two innings,” Hemphill said. “She was not going to let [Tennessee] come back.”

Fouts struck out the final batter in the sixth inning and retired the side via the strikeout to close out the Alabama win. The junior finished the night with 13 strikeouts and 117 pitches. 

Along with Hemphill and Clark, senior Kaylee Tow and sophomore Savannah Woodard also had strong performances at the plate with multi-hit games. Tow led the team with three hits and currently has an eight game hitting streak. 

Alabama will face longtime rival No. 4 Florida in the championship game for the second consecutive SEC Tournament. Both programs are leaders in the conference with five SEC Tournament championship wins. 

That will change May 15 in Rhoads stadium at 5 p.m. CT. The game will be televised on ESPN2.