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Softball: Three things to know about Alabama

The No. 12 over No. 5 upset is always a popular pick in March Madness, just saying.

NCAA Softball: SEC Softball Tournament Quarterfinals Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Following an exciting weekend at the Evanston Regional where Northwestern went 3-0 and capped off an undefeated season at Sharon J. Drysdale Field, it has advanced to the Super Regional round. Across the country, 16 teams will play a best-of-three series at eight various host sites. The Big Ten champion Wildcats will travel to Tuscaloosa to take on the No. 5 seed in the tournament, the Alabama Crimson Tide. Ahead of this weekend’s action, here are three things to know about Northwestern’s SEC opponent:

Montana Fouts or not...the pitching is stellar

Alabama’s ace, Montana Fouts is one of the greatest pitchers in program history. The 2021 NFCA Pitcher of the Year has been named to the All-SEC First Team four different times in her illustrious career, and this season, she flexed a dazzling 1.44 ERA over 213.1 innings in an especially tough conference.

However, on May 12, Fouts injured her leg in the SEC Tournament and has not pitched since. She was reportedly available to pitch for the Crimson Tide this past weekend if needed, but was ultimately held out. The expectation is that Fouts should be good to go against Northwestern, but after two weeks without playing and coming off an injury, it’s possible she will be held on a pitch count.

In her absence, junior Jaala Torrence pitched 18.2 innings of scoreless softball against LIU and Middle Tennessee in the regional round. In over 80 innings this season, Torrence has recorded a sharp 2.08 ERA. As a whole, Alabama’s pitching staff led the SEC in ERA, complete games, and preventing home runs. Regardless of who is in the pitcher’s circle, Northwestern has a tall task ahead.

Alabama boasts a deep team of smart hitters

One-through-nine in the lineup, Alabama has a strong group of batters who have displayed ample prowess against some of the best pitchers in the country. Ashley Prange was the Crimson Tide’s best option at the plate this year, leading the team in OPS (1.082), home runs (16), RBIs (45) and walks (tied at 34). The graduate student gets on base more than any other player for Alabama.

Other names to keep an eye on include catcher Ally Shipman, who was the hero in Alabama’s narrow 1-0 victory over Middle Tennessee to clinch a spot in this game. Shipman, who leads the team in batting average, clobbered a solo shot in the top of the seventh to stave off a major upset and elimination. Freshman Kenleigh Cahalan has also been a revelation in her first season in red and white, starting all 62 games for the Crimson Tide and leading the team in at-bats with solid hitting metrics across the board.

As a team, Alabama is one of the most disciplined units in the tournament. The Crimson Tide struck out less than any other team in the ultra-competitive SEC. For Northwestern, Danielle Williams, who is known for her wicked strikeout pitch, and Lauren Boyd, who just posted a season-high nine Ks against Miami (OH), will have an extra difficult time retiring batters on strikes. Alabama also led the conference in sacrifice bunts, as head coach Patrick Murphy is willing to play small ball to eke out victories.

The Crimson Tide have been on this stage, but are hungry for more

Simply put, Alabama is one of the best softball programs in the nation. The Crimson Tide have advanced to the second round of NCAA postseason 17 times in the past 18 years, including a title run captured in 2012. What was the one season Alabama didn’t make it to this point in the tournament? Great question, thank you for asking. A year ago, Alabama was upset in the Tuscaloosa Regional by Stanford, ending the Crimson Tide’s season in heartbreaking fashion on their home field. It’s safe to say that Alabama is motivated and hungry after falling short last year.

In 2019, many players who are still on the roster advanced all the way to the World Series, winning three games before being knocked out by Oklahoma one win short of a trip to the championship series. In 2021, the Crimson Tide needed just one win over Florida State to advance to a rematch with Oklahoma in the finals, but lost consecutive games to the Seminoles. The Crimson Tide faithful have suffered through a fair share of heartache, but are hoping this is the year the team will finally break through.

The series seems poised to be a great one, with so many great players on the diamond and so many storylines at play. The best-of-three series between the Wildcats and Crimson Tide will kick off Friday night at 7 p.m. CT. The second game of the series will be played Saturday night with the third game, if needed, set to be played on Sunday. The winner will be one of eight teams in the Women’s College World Series, which kicks off on June 1.