Alabama Softball begins hosting its Leadoff Classic Feb. 10 with Patrick Murphy returning for his 27th year — that’s all — and 25th season as head coach. The future Hall of Fame coach has led the Crimson Tide to a national championship, 22 NCAA tournament appearances and 11 trips to the Women’s College World Series.
Although there is no trophy for popularity, year after year, playing at Rhoads Stadium Alabama has been the national leader in attracting the largest number of fans.
Alabama purposely had an abbreviated fall schedule to start training a few days earlier, starting last Sunday with three days before classes begin Wednesday — days that could be used for two drills a day.
While it seems like Montana Fouts was there most of the time, this marks the 6-1 right-hander’s fifth season at Tide as she takes advantage of the extra year granted to athletes whose 2020 season was curtailed by the COVID pandemic. She is a two-time All-America, 2021 NCAA Pitcher of the Year, and a member of the 2022 World Games gold-medal USA team.
“I was cartwheeling,” Murphy said of his reaction when Fouts decided to return. The three-time All-SEC performer.
Fouts is the headliner. She has a career record of 75-21 with a 1.72 ERA and 858 strikeouts against 181 walks. She was 23-7 last season.
Junior Jaala Torrence (7-2, 2.86 ERA) and Junior Alex Salter (4-0, 2.17) also return to the field.
Other 2022 Tide starters include positioner Ally Shipman (Bama’s leading hitter last season at .357 with 8 homers), third baseman Ashley Prange (.340, 8 HR), shortstop Bailey Dowling (.267, team-best 10 HR), left fielder Jenna Johnson (.290, 5 HR).
Other returning players with experience include DP Kat Grill (.300 with 31 starts), Kali Heivilin, Jordan Stephens, Aubrey Barnhart, KJ Haney and M’Kay Gidley.
Murphy pointed out that six of the 20 returning players had a 4.0 GPA.
Alabama has eight newcomers, including a somewhat pleasant surprise. Kenleigh Cahalan, a lefty who hits center infield, was ranked as the nation’s best prospect when she signed with Hewitt-Trussville High School in December. She was able to register early for the spring semester at the university and is eligible to play this season.
Other freshmen include outfielder Kristen White of Phenix City Central, outfielder Larissa Preuitt of Hartselle, reserve Marlie Giles of Chilton County in Clanton and infielder Abby Duchscherer of Kindred, ND
Transfers are junior infielder Emma Broadfoot of Danville of North Alabama, senior infielder and left-hander Lauren Esman of Kalamazoo, Michigan of Michigan, and graduating outfielder Faith Hensley of Monroe, Ohio of Ball State.
Murphy said the presence of four graduates – Fouts, Shipman, Prange and Hensley – makes this one of the most experienced rosters he’s ever had.
Alyson Habetz, Murphy’s longtime assistant head coach, is returning, as is volunteer assistant and former Bama player Ryan Iamurri. New to the team as assistant pitcher trainer is Lance McMahon, who came from Illinois and replaces longtime assistant Stephanie VanBrakle Prothro, who is now the head coach at Memphis.
Last year, Bama finished second in the Southeastern Conference regular season with a 43-12 overall record and a 16-8 SEC mark. The disappointment was that the Crimson Tide hosted an NCAA Regional and fell to Stanford in the championship game and failed to advance to the Super Regional and Women’s College World Series.
As usual, Alabama will open the season with a handful of tournaments, including three in Tuscaloosa — Leadoff Classic February 10-11 (Lehigh, Georgia Southern), Bama Bash February 24-26 (Kennesaw State, Southeastern Louisiana, Indiana states). and Crimson Classic March 3-5 (Robert Morris, Longwood, Mercer). The Tide will make its annual trek to the Clearwater, Florida Invitational for top competition against Duke, UCLA, Central Florida, Indiana and Florida State) and will also go to Texas for the Bevo Classic with the Longhorns, Texas State, and Wisconsin.
Bama opens the SEC season March 18-20 in Tuscaloosa against last year’s champion Arkansas.