Softball looks to get back on track at Easton Bama Bash


CW File

James Benedetto | @james_benedetto, Assistant Desk Editor

Expectations are a finicky product of success in sports. After Alabama softball’s 60-win season and a trip to the semifinals of the Women’s College World Series last season, many heralded this year’s version of the Crimson Tide as the No. 1 team in the country prior to a pitch being thrown.

Two weeks later, that same team is below .500 with dominant wins over No. 2 Washington, South Florida and Liberty but was also shut out in losses against No. 1 UCLA and No. 8 Florida State.

“It’s just not good enough, obviously,” coach Patrick Murphy said. “We always want a quality start from whoever starts as a pitcher. The team defense has to be there and we have to get the key hit. We’ve maybe had four quality starts so far, just way too many freebies. Walks, hit-by-pitches, errors, wild pitch, whatever you want to call it… too many of those.”

For an example of all of these mishaps, look no further than first two innings in the 7-0 loss to No. 1 UCLA. The Bruins scored four runs in those two innings, but UCLA tallied just one hit on sophomore pitcher Montana Fouts. Five walks, two passed balls, one wild pitch and one hit-by-pitch later, Fouts was relieved by freshman pitcher Lexi Kilfoyl to try and limit the damage with two runners in scoring position.

For Fouts, a stat line that features an 0-2 record with a 4.88 ERA and more walks than strikeouts, was not expected. Preseason expectations were high for her, as she was named to the preseason All-SEC team after a freshman year where she tallied 21 wins and sported a 1.39 ERA, both of which ranked No. 3 in the SEC.

“We told [Fouts], ‘You don’t have to be 100% in February; we want you to be ready to go in May and June,'” Murphy said. “I don’t think she is 100%. Her timing is a little bit off. … You know she took the eight weeks off from the Olympic trials until finals. The last day of finals, she pitched for the first time and then she was on a pitch count over Christmas break.”

Murphy said that the long-term rest for Fouts was something that he was planning to do dating back to the summer. But, Fouts’ dominant performance in 2019 landed her an opportunity to compete in the 2019 World Baseball Softball Confederation with Team USA. After winning gold, Fouts continued to pitch at the USA Olympic Trials. Despite wanting to rest her for precautionary reasons, Murphy said he “wasn’t going to take away either one of those. It’s not fair, those are great opportunities.”

With Fouts still coming back to form, Kilfoyl has enjoyed early success as she was named the SEC Freshman of the Week. In seven appearances, she holds a 2-2 record with a team-leading 2.84 ERA. Kilfoyl was tested these past two weekends, as she made an appearance against No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Washington, No. 8 Florida State and No. 16 Oklahoma State.

“It definitely hasn’t been easy by any means,” Kilfoyl said. “We jumped right into the fire coming off playing two or three of the teams that were in the Women’s College World Series.”

As the Crimson Tide turns its attention toward the Easton Bama Bash, the team will be missing a key piece in senior center fielder Elissa Brown. Prior to the Joanne Graf Classic, Brown broke her left hand after she was hit by a pitch in batting practice. Murphy said that she will be out of the lineup for six weeks but will look to use her as a pinch runner.

The Crimson Tide will kick off the Easton Bama Bash with a doubleheader against Wichita State at 4 p.m and Penn State at 6 p.m.

“We have to get good starts from whoever starts,” Murphy said. “This sport is all about pitching, and if they can keep us in the game, then we can score a run.”