Preview | Softball to host NCAA regional

Robert Cortez, Staff Reporter

The NCAA unveiled the softball tournament bracket on Sunday, May 16. The Crimson Tide (45-5; 3-0 postseason) received the No. 3 seed, which is the program’s highest ranking since it claimed the No. 2 seed in 2014. 

The Crimson Tide will welcome Alabama State, Troy and Clemson to Rhoads Stadium on Friday, May 21. The winner of the Tuscaloosa Regional will face the winner of the Lexington Regional May 28-30. 

“It was an automatic qualification this year, and we knew we were getting in,” Alabama Head Coach Patrick Murphy said. “But to see ‘Alabama’ on the screen just means a whole lot to everybody.” 

This marks the program’s 22nd consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Crimson Tide rides a 40-game win streak in regional play that dates back to 2007. 

Alabama is the only NCAA Division I program to advance to every super regional round since the super regional’s inception in 2005. Murphy credited the unprecedented feat to two factors: the team’s ability to respect its opponent and the Alabama faithful.  

“You got to respect your opponent, “Murphy said. “And if you don’t, you’re going to get your butt beat.”

SEC Tournament Recap 

Alabama’s “Team 25” enters the postseason on a 13-game winning streak after beating the Florida Gators in the SEC championship game, 4-0.

Ace junior Montana Fouts (22-3; 1.55 ERA) had a dominant performance in the SEC Tournament. The 2021 SEC Co-Pitcher of the Year struck out a record 39 batters and showed stamina as she threw 70 mph through the entirety of her three starts. 

Graduate student Bailey Hemphill, the 2021 SEC Player of the Year, rediscovered her home run swing in the SEC Tournament. Hemphill hit three home runs, breaking the program record previously held by Kelly Kretschman. 

Hemphill tied Kretshcman’s record of 60 home runs in the quarterfinal and broke it in the semifinal against Tennessee, sending Alabama to the championship game. Prior to the SEC Tournament, the Lafayette, La. native went 15 games without hitting a long ball. 

The Alabama pitching staff leads the conference with a 1.74 ERA and ranks 12th nationally. 

The Crimson Tide offense hit for a .314 average this season, ranking 25th in the nation. In its 13 consecutive wins, the offense averaged just shy of 6.5 runs. 

Opponent Preview 

Clemson (42-6; 2-1 postseason) 

Freshman Valerie Cagle (26-5; 1.06 ERA) struck out 247 batters this season — 28 less than Fouts — and leads her team with a .414 batting average. 

Cagle was named the ACC Player and Freshman of the Year and is a Top 10 Finalist for USA Softball’s Collegiate Player of the Year. 

The Clemson offense holds a .298 batting average. Despite a lower batting average than the Crimson Tide, the Tigers have had more success hitting the home run ball. Clemson has 62 home runs on the season compared to Alabama’s 33. 

Clemson faced one national seed this season when it played No. 13 Duke and collected a 2-3 record. Alabama has faced four teams that hold a top 10 national seed and have gone 9-4.

Troy (36-15; 3-1 postseason) 

Troy and Alabama faced each other in late February in the Easton Crimson Classic, which ended in a 2-0 Crimson Tide win. 

Junior Leanna Johnson (20-7; 1.50 ERA) found success against the Alabama lineup. She gave up one earned run and a pair of hits. 

The Trojan lineup carries a .285 batting average and has 30 stolen bases this season. Alabama’s graduate students Alexis Mack and Elissa Brown have 43 stolen bases alone. 

Alabama State (19-27; 4-0 postseason)

The Crimson Tide beat Alabama State in its two previous matchups with a combined 18 runs. They faced each other in the first game of the season and again in mid-April.

The Hornets will enter regional play with a five-game winning streak. 

Alabama begins regional play against Alabama State on Friday, May 21, at 5 p.m. CT. The game will be televised on the SEC Network. 

Regional Predictions

Alabama: Advances to super regional

Clemson: 2-2, falls in regional final 

Troy: 1-2

Alabama State: 0-2