Softball to host Arizona twice in marquee matchup


CW / Kelsey Mullins

Robert Cortez, Contributing Writer

Iron will forge iron this weekend, Feb. 28-29, in Rhoads Stadium as two of college softball’s perennial powerhouses, No. 10 Alabama (9-5) and No. 7 Arizona (12-3), face off.

Both programs are rich in history and know what it feels like to be at the top of the sport. Alabama’s Patrick Murphy and Arizona’s Mike Candrea are two of the most successful coaches in college softball.

“Having Candrea and Arizona come, it’s just gonna be so much fun having him in the [Rhoads] house,” Murphy said. “He’s a legend in softball.”

Last year, the Crimson Tide and Wildcats met on two occasions, which both resulted in Alabama wins. The second loss ended Arizona’s season in the Women’s College World Series after to a shutout performance by then-freshman pitcher Montana Fouts.

Arizona’s offense, which is one of the best in the nation, is led by senior Jessie Harper. Harper led the NCAA with 29 home runs last year and has already tallied up five home runs this year. She has 71 career home runs and is chasing history, as she needs 25 more this season to be the all-time NCAA home run leader. Murphy has the opportunity to utilize his pitching staff to keep the Arizona hitters off balance.

“That’s the good thing with four [pitchers], because you have the luxury so you can mix and match,” Murphy said.

Senior Bailey Hemphill is the face of the Alabama offense, as she had 26 home runs and 84 RBIs last year, which broke both previous Alabama records and the SEC home run record. Two of Hemphill’s RBIs came in Alabama’s win over Arizona in the Women’s College World Series.

Junior K.B. Sides carries a team-leading .412 batting average and help propelled the Crimson Tide to four run-rule wins in the Easton Bama Bash this past weekend.

“We run-ruled four of the five [opponents], and Bailey really wasn’t one of the major contributors,” Murphy said. “I think we had two games where everyone in the lineup was on base at least once. That hasn’t happened for a while.”

The teams’ pitching staffs are in two different positions. Alabama returns its whole pitching staff from last year, which is led by Fouts (2-2, 2.66 ERA), and has added one of the nation’s top freshmen in Lexi Kilfoyl (4-2, 2.22 ERA).

Arizona lost its First Team All-American ace, Taylor McQuillen, last year due to graduation. Senior pitcher Alyssa Denham and senior transfer pitcher from Oklahoma, Mariah Lopez, have pitched the bulk of the innings this season as they try to fill the absence of McQuillen.

The Crimson Tide and Wildcats play each other twice this weekend in the Easton Crimson Classic. First pitch for Game 1 is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 28, at 6 p.m. CT.