NCAA softball: Alabama unimpressed with WCWS, still impressed with new stadium
Stepping into the United States softball stadium for the Alabama softball team was a combination of comfort and awe.
There was a sense of ease given that much of her roster had enjoyed five games there in the 2019 Women’s College World Series. The wide-eyed part came when they saw how hard the setup was. legendary was different two years later.
The addition of corresponding second bridges along the two baselines brings the stadium capacity to 13,000 for this year’s WCWS.
“It literally looks like Bryant-Denny Stadium or Yankee Stadium or a Major League stadium with the top deck,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said Wednesday. “I know we’ve been waiting for a long time to get here and play and we can’t wait to see all the fans. “
The No.3 Crimson Tide (50-7) will meet eight-time national champion Arizona on Thursday at 6:00 p.m. CT to open the double-elimination tournament. A win would mean facing the 10-seeded Florida State and No.2-seeded UCLA on Friday at 8:30 p.m., while a loss would send them to an elimination game on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
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That same diamond trip in 2019 was huge for Alabama wide receiver Bailey Hemphill, named NFCA All-American on Wednesday with pitcher Montana Fouts.
“I think it’s a huge advantage for us,” Hemphill said. “We have experienced players on this team. I think there are six or seven of us who are seniors in the starting lineup, so having that experience and not having that shock factor – the excitement is obviously still there playing in the World Series. – but being able to control emotions a bit better is going to be key for us.
Hemphill is one of six senior students or graduates of Alabama’s starting lineup, while pitcher ace Fouts is a junior. Four of Tide’s top five hitters have played at OKC before, considering first hitter Alexis Mack played there with Oregon before being transferred.
The No. 11 seed Arizona (41-13) also played in Oklahoma City two years ago, making his first appearance since 2010. In fact, it was Alabama that knocked out the Wildcats in a 2- final. 0 in an elimination match.
These two have considerable familiarity given that they play in very different eye sockets.
Prior to securing that June 2019 victory over the Wildcats, Alabama beat Arizona 6-1 in an early-season tournament in Tucson. It was the first real college test for Fouts, then a freshman barely a week into his Alabama career. She played all seven innings of victory on February 16, 2019, scattering six hits, striking out eight with no walks or earned runs against the No.9 Wildcats in their stadium. Fouts also played all seven innings of the WCWS victory, allowing just three hits in the 2-0 victory.
The Wildcats turned around and beat Alabama twice in 2020 at Tuscaloosa. Lexi Kilfoyl pitched full games for Alabama in 2-1, 6-5 losses at Rhoads Stadium.
Arizona brings considerable experience and a few big bats to Oklahoma City this week. His team’s batting average of 0.326 is 10th in the country with three hitters hitting more than 15 home runs. Senior wide receiver Dejah Mulipola is tied for seventh with 21 homers as the Alabama roster’s power is punctuated by Hemphill’s 12 homers this spring.
The Wildcats’ 94 home runs rank fifth in the NCAA, a stark contrast to Alabama’s 37. Rookie Sharlize Palacios is doing her part in the playoffs, averaging .550 with three home runs (18 this season) and 13 RBIs.
Alabama versus with a pitching staff with a 1.69 squad ERA led by Fouts.
“There are some really good pitchers,” Murphy said of the WCWS field, “but there are some frightening infractions – mostly in Oklahoma and Arizona. I mean, scary, scary home run hitters.
Alabama have allowed just four points in five NCAA playoff games and Fouts have allowed no more than three earned runs in a game since early April.
Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on twitter @ByCasagrande Or on Facebook.