Alabama Softball Opens This Week

A year ago Alabama Softball Coach Patrick Murphy was in a rebuilding mode, but the schedule was made for a veteran squad. In the first month and a half of the season Bama had played 11 games against top ten teams -- and the Tide had six losses to show for it.

Alabama rebounded quite nicely, thank you, to a 52-11 record and championships of both the Southeastern Conference regular season (23-4) and the SEC Tournament Championship.

Alabama should get off to an even better start this year. Bama is scheduled to participate in the inaugural All-Alabama Classic beginning Friday at Liberty Park in Vestavia Hills near Birmingham. Bama will play Samford at 6 p.m. Friday; on Saturday the Tide will play Alabama A&M at 1:30 and Jacksonville State at 4 p.m.; and on Sunday it will be Alabama vs. South Alabama at 11 a.m. and Bama vs. Troy at 1:30 p.m.

The Tide will be a prohibitive favorite in its opener, but Murphy could be expected to show some mercy. Former Bama All-America Stephanie VanBrakle is the new coach of the Bulldogs.

Alabama is expected to once again be one of the nation's top teams. Pre-season polls have Bama third and sixth in the nation and the Tide has been picked to win the SEC title again.

The weather has not been conducive to outdoor activity in Tuscaloosa this winter, a second straight year of cold in Alabama. Bama had been working out in the indoor football facility. Speaking of facilities, this week Bama opened its new softball fieldhouse.

One piece of news is that Murphy has moved an All-America. Kayla Braud, who earned All-America as a freshman last year playing second base, will be in left field this year. Although she has never played in the outfield, Murphy said she had picked it up well and it gives Alabama perhaps its fastest outfield ever.

Of course, Braud earned All-America primarily for her offensive performance. She batted .505 (95-188), scored 75 runs, and stole 45 bases (in 50 attempts).

Also returning as an All-America is pitcher Kelsi Dunne, who was 30-6 last year with an earned runs average of 1.97. She struck out 355 batters in 213 innings and walked only 68.

Braud and Dunne are joined on the pre-season All-SEC team by Whitney Larsen, who is from Vestavia Hills where the All-Alabama Tournament is being played.

Alabama will follow the All-Alabama with its annual Bama Bash Feb. 18-20, with teams such as Syracuse and Louisville participating.

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