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What to know about Alabama, Arizona’s first Women’s College World Series opponent

COLLEGE SOFTBALL: FEB 16 Alabama at Arizona
Montana Fouts
Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Arizona softball will open the 2021 Women’s College World Series on Thursday against the same team that eliminated them in 2019—the No. 3-seeded Alabama Crimson Tide.

First pitch in Oklahoma City is set for 4 p.m. PT on ESPN. Here is some background on Alabama.

How did Alabama get here?

The Crimson Tide went 42-7 in the regular season, including an 18-6 mark in the SEC. That was good for a third-place finish behind Arkansas and Florida. Alabama beat No. 17 Kentucky, No. 19 Tennessee and No. 4 Florida to win the SEC Tournament.

Alabama then topped Alabama State and Clemson twice to win the Tuscaloosa Regional, posting a 20-0 run differential in the process. The Crimson Tide swept Kentucky—4-3 and 4-1—in Super Regionals to punch their ticket to the Women’s College World Series.

Alabama, now 50-7, has won 18 games in a row dating back to April 17.

How has Alabama been historically?

Dominant. This will mark Alabama’s 13th trip to the Women’s College World Series, all of them coming in 2000 or later. (Their program was founded in 1997.)

The Crimson Tide won the national championship in 2012 and were the runner-up in 2014. They eliminated Arizona in the 2019 Women’s College World Series with a 2-0 win.

Who is the Alabama head coach?

The Crimson Tide are led by 55-year-old Patrick Murphy, who is in his 22nd year as Alabama’s head coach. He has been one of the most successful coaches of his era, winning close to 80 percent of his games.

Murphy is responsible for all 13 of Alabama’s WCWS appearances as well as six SEC regular-season championships. He has been the conference’s Coach of the Year five times.

Interesting note: Murphy was introduced as LSU’s new coach in 2011 but had a change of heart and stayed in Tuscaloosa.

What is Alabama good at?

The Crimson Tide thrive with speed and the short game, which will be a good test for Arizona’s dynamic defense. Alabama is third in the SEC in batting average (.315) and second in stolen bases (88). They are also tied for second in sacrifice bunts.

Alabama is even better in the circle, ranking No. 1 in the SEC in ERA (1.69) and strikeouts (510), third in opponent batting average (.191) and tied for first in home runs allowed (24).

The Tide’s 510 strikeouts are the most in the country.

What is Alabama not good at?

Unlike Arkansas, Arizona’s Super Regional opponent, the Crimson Tide don’t hit many home runs. They have only gone yard 37 times this season, third-fewest in the SEC. They rank near the bottom of the SEC in doubles and triples too.

Defensively, Alabama is solid but not spectacular, ranking fifth in the SEC in errors but ninth in fielding percentage. Then again, defense isn’t as important when your pitching staff strikes out as many hitters as Alabama’s does.

Who are Alabama’s best players?

Arizona faced one SEC Co-Pitcher of the Year against Arkansas and will see the other half against Alabama in Montana Fouts.

The junior right-hander is 25-3 with a 1.49 ERA in 196.2 innings. She has a whopping 314 strikeouts to just 46 walks. Opponents are hitting .185 against her with 11 home runs. She has allowed three runs in 21 innings in the postseason, all three runs coming against Kentucky in the Tuscaloosa Super Regional final.

Fouts has fanned 10 or more batters in seven straight starts. She looks up to Jennie Finch and has drawn comparisons to the former Arizona legend. Fouts is listed at 6-foot-1 and her velocity regularly sits in the lower-to-mid 70s.

Fouts pitched twice against Arizona in 2019, allowing one unearned run in a complete game at Hillenbrand Stadium, then a three-hit shutout in the Women’s College World Series.

Alabama also has Lexi Kilfoyl, a sophomore right-hander who is 13-3 with a 1.57 ERA. She, too, has impressive strikeout numbers, fanning 118 batters in 93 innings. Arizona beat Kilfoyl twice in Tuscaloosa in 2020. She allowed two runs in seven innings in one outing, then six runs in seven innings in the other.

Alabama’s best hitter is senior catcher Bailey Hemphill. She leads the Tide in batting average (.416), home runs (12) and RBI (52). Hemphill had the two-run double that beat sank Arizona in the 2019 WCWS. She is Alabama’s all-time leader in homers and RBI.

First baseman Kaylee Tow is the other power hitter to know. She’s hitting .369 with seven homers, a team-high 14 doubles and 47 RBI.

Alabama has one of the best leadoff hitters in the country in Alexis Mack. The Oregon transfer is hitting .416 with 24 stolen bases. No. 9 hitter Elissa Brown is hitting .396 with 24 stolen bases.

How has Alabama fared against good teams?

Incredibly well. The Crimson Tide are 29-6 against ranked teams. They went 6-2 in their SEC series with series wins over Auburn, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Georgia and Ole Miss. Their series losses were to Florida and Kentucky. Alabama also swept two non-conference games against LSU and Louisiana.

Alabama is 5-0 in the NCAA Tournament with a 28-4 run differential.