Alabama softball has stacked up the bats and gloves and said goodbye to seniors Reagan Dykes, Merris Schroder, Caroline Hardy and Courtney Gettins.
The group had an impressive Women's College World Series run in Oklahoma City, but the questionable eighth seeding in the NCAA Tournament finally cost the Crimson Tide against No. 1 Oklahoma.
Thing is, Alabama seemed to take some steam out of the Sooner surge, which would help explain UCLA dispatching OU in two straight games for the 2019 national title.
But what to make of this 23rd season of Alabama softball (thus, Team 23)? Coach Patrick Murphy told reporter that this group “re-energized” him and the fans seemed to feel the same way.
Maybe a few regulars in the press box, too.
The Crimson Tide finished 60-10 and had medals been handed out would have received a bronze. That’s not bad, especially considering Alabama was picked to finish eight in the Southeastern Conference by league coaches.
UA had not won 60 times since its lone national title season in 2012 led by then sophomore pitcher Jackie Traina, who now plays professionally and is an assistant coach at Dartmouth.
Yes, Team 23 had a fantastic year that included the SEC regular season title and four wins in five tries against rival Florida. It was a season full of both highlights and milestones, but it’s over now.
So what of Team 24?
There are holes to fill, to be sure. Catcher Dykes, the senior leader, must be replaced. All-American first baseman Bailey Hemphill, who belted a school record 26 homers this year, can play behind the plate. Freshman signee Karla Hice of Ardmore, Ala., is said to be skilled defensively but probably not ready to open the season against SEC pitching as a hitter. Transfers could factor in here.
There is a report, although not yet confirmed, that former Oregon left fielder Alexis Mack is looking to finish her career at Alabama as a graduate transfer.
Mack is two-time second team All-Pac-12 honoree who batted .369 and had a .418 on-base percentage with 12 RBIs, and was 24 of 27 stealing bases in 2018. In 2017, she led the Ducks in batting average (.424) and on-base percentage (.497) and topped the Pac-12 with 28 stolen bases.
The senior began her career at South Carolina in 2016. She sat out the 2019 season and is in the NCAA transfer portal. She plays left field, a position vacated by Schroder.
According to sources, Mack has told Murphy she plans to enroll at Alabama to begin graduate work and join his team. It’s not a done deal yet, but look for an announcement in the coming weeks.
Should Hemphill have to begin the season at catcher, former starter Kaylee Tow could step in at first, where she spent around half the 2019 season.
The other positions all have returning starters. As of now the only pitcher leaving is Gettins.
All-American Lexi Kilfoyl, back-to-back Gatorade Player of the Year in Florida will arrive this summer. While leading Academy at the Lakes to a state title she was 14-1 record with a 0.48 Era, with 134 strikeouts in only 73 innings.
The 18-year-old Team USA member can hit, too. She swatted .563 with 12 home runes and 37 RBIs.
She could be a huge factor in Murphy’s 2020 rotation.
Like this year’s ace freshman Montana Fouts, Kilfoyl stands 6-foot-1. Murphy may or may not let Kilfoyl and/or Fouts bat some next year. Don’t rule it out.
There are other newcomers who could play a big role. If Mack goes elsewhere, signee Jenna Johnson of Franklin, Tenn could step in, as could rising sophomores Kayla Davis and Kloyee Anderson. Both have speed to burn but must spend a lot of the in the hitting cages.
It sounds crazy, but as good as Team 23 was, Team 24 could be even better. The potential is certainly there, only time will tell.
And it’s already ticking.