Alabama Softball Preview: Kickin’ Chicken Classic [Video]
Patrick Murphy’s Alabama Crimson Tide softball squad hits the road this weekend to begin their journey toward a fourth consecutive trip to Oklahoma City.
The Crimson Tide will play five games as part of this weekend’s Kickin’ Chicken Classic on the campus of Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina.
Alabama opens play Friday morning against Towson at 11:30 followed by a matchup with Coastal Carolina at 2 PM. During the weekend, the Crimson Tide faces Towson at 9 AM and Youngstown State at 11:30 AM then finishes with Coastal Carolina on Sunday at 11 AM.
Coming into this season, the 2017 version of the Crimson Tide begin the season looking to replace the services of four-time All-American Haylie McCleney and slugger Leona Lafaele. McCleney led the Crimson Tide in batting average (.443) and stolen bases (20) while Lafaele led the team in home runs (14) and RBIs (57) during the 2016 season.
While they will miss the production of McCleney and Lafaele, Alabama will have to find new leaders if they want to return to the Women’s College World Series. One of those potential leaders on the 2017 squad is senior Marisa Runyon.
During Tuesday’s media session, Runyon spoke about the challenge facing the senior regarding leadership.
“I think the big thing from last year we’re missing is the vocal leadership and so that’s something Coach (Patrick) Murphy challenged us. Who’s going to be the one player, one out of three of us, to really step up and vocally lead the team and demand like he wants us to?” Runyon stated.
The senior from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, experienced a slump in production last season belting just nine home runs to go along with 42 RBIs. During her junior season, Runyon set a single-season school record with 80 RBIs while smashing 19 homers as an NFCA Third Team All-American.
Runyon described the approach that she and her teammates want to take this season.
“Coach Aly (Habetz) has worked specifically on us going up to bat looking for a certain pitch, and that’s I think the biggest difference this year is that we’re going to attack that pitch that we want.” Runyon commented.
In a tradition for Alabama softball, the senior infielder will enjoy the opportunity to play minutes away from her hometown of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Runyon discussed her feelings about playing in front of family and friends.
“I’m excited, really excited. Got a lot of family coming down from New York where I’m originally from, and I’m just ready to share my family with the team.” Runyon said.
Looking at the Kickin’ Chicken Classic field, every team won at least 30 games in 2016 and will attempt to take another step forward this season.
Towson ended 2016 with a 37-17 record and are picked to finish second in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Tigers return 16 players from a squad that ranked 10th in the country in home runs (70) and 26th nationally in runs scored per game (6.02/game).
Coastal Carolina is undergoing a transition from the Big South Conference to the Sun Belt Conference this season. The Chanticleers return a nucleus of 10 returning players including Big South Freshman of the Year Taty Forbes. Forbes led the Big South in batting average (.479) and hits (104) during her freshman campaign last year.
Youngstown State won 30 games last year for just the third time in program history and are picked to finish fourth in the Horizon League this season according to league coaches. The Penguins are looking to build upon their recent success thanks to 18 returning players, seven returning position starters and two returning starters in the pitching circle.
Softball around Alabama
The 2017 season could yield another bumper crop for NCAA regional participants around Alabama as Auburn, Samford, Alabama State and Jacksonville State look to duplicate highly successful campaigns in 2016. Each school is picked to finish close to top of their respective conferences and could compete for NCAA regional slots.
Auburn faces one of the toughest opening weekend fields in college softball as they’ll take on 2016 national champion Oklahoma, super regional participant Washington as well as NCAA regional foes Nebraska and BYU during the Triple Crown Tournament in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Samford kicks off the 2017 season at the Louisiana Tech Invitational against North Dakota State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Friday, Missouri State and Incarnate Word on Saturday and Louisiana Tech on Sunday.
Jacksonville State and Alabama State head to Mobile to participate in The Sand Dollar Classic where they will play each other on opening day and contend against South Alabama, Central Arkansas and Houston Baptist over the weekend.