Softball set to defend its title in the SEC Tournament

Blake Byler, Assistant Sports Editor

Beginning Thursday afternoon, No. 6 Alabama (41-10, 16-8 SEC) will begin its defense of last season’s SEC Softball Tournament Championship in Gainesville, Florida.

Alabama has the most SEC Tournament titles in the conference with six and won the tournament the last time it was in Gainesville in 2005.

“This is the best time of the year,” head coach Patrick Murphy said. “The SEC Tournament is really like a precursor to the World Series. It’s preparing you for what you’re going to see the next two, three weekends.”

The Crimson Tide earned the No. 2 seed in the tournament, resulting in a double-bye. The first two rounds of the tournament will take place Tuesday and Wednesday. Alabama will take on the winner of 7-seed Missouri (33-19, 12-11) and 10-seed Auburn (39-14, 11-13).

If Missouri were to advance to play Alabama, it would be the fourth game in a row that the Crimson Tide would face the Tigers. Just last weekend, the two teams faced off in Rhoads Stadium in Tuscaloosa, with the Crimson Tide emerging victorious in the series two games to one.

Missouri won the first game of the series by a final score 3-2 in extra innings, but Alabama rallied to win the next two games consecutively by a final score of 3-1 in both games.

Senior pitcher Montana Fouts was superb in the series, playing the entirety of games one and three, as well as finishing the final three innings of game two. She pitched a total of 17.2 innings, holding Missouri to just three earned runs and striking out 26 batters in that span. Her performance earned her last week’s SEC Pitcher of the Week award for the fourth time this season.

If Auburn were to advance over Missouri, it would be the first meeting of the season between the rival schools. While Auburn had a losing record in conference play, it still boasts some impressive wins on its resume, including a non-conference win over then-No. 11 Texas and a series victory over then-No. 15 Georgia.

Alabama’s most likely matchup in the semifinal round would be 3-seed Tennessee, who Alabama did not face during the regular season – in a rematch of last season’s semifinal matchup.

The championship game this season is most likely to feature SEC regular season champion and top-seeded Arkansas, who Alabama also did not face during the regular season.

It will be interesting to see if Murphy continues with his tournament strategy from a year ago, where Fouts started in every tournament game and pitched in every inning. The Crimson Tide has a capable pitching staff in junior Lexi Kilfoyl and sophomore Alex Salter, but the postseason last year is where Fouts was at her best.

The key for Alabama in its title defense will be the same thing it has been all season: getting key hits and passing the bat down. The defense from the Crimson Tide has been a force. If the Crimson Tide can get the bats hot and get key hits with runners on base, this team will be a serious threat to repeat as tournament champions.

“The number one thing you’ve got to do is play well,” Murphy said. “The second thing, I want to be able to give lots of people chances. […] Are you prepared for your opportunity when you get it?”

The Crimson Tide’s first game of the tournament will be Thursday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. CT on the SEC Network.