Alabama Softball Opens 2014 Season

Will Alabama Softball Coach Patrick Murphy flip a coin to finish out his starting lineup when the Crimson Tide opens its season in the Troy Invitational beginning today? Earlier this week, Murphy said that his team is two-deep at every position and has three quality pitchers and that at perhaps five positions the competition was close enough to decide with a coin toss.

Murphy even had his Alabama players attempt to make out a starting lineup. There was only one player who was a staple on every lineup submitted by the players: Sophomore Haylie McCleney was in center field and batting either first or second.

The problem is a good one for Murphy. Bama talent is why the Crimson Tide has been picked to finish sixth in the nation. It starts against Kennesaw State at 2:30 p.m. CST today in Troy. Alabama will follow that at 7:30 against North Florida. On Saturday, Alabama will play Northwestern State at 2:30 and Middle Tennessee at 7:30. Bama completes its opening week competition against the host team at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Since 2005, Alabama owns a 15-1 record in opening day games and has outscored its opponents 124-12. During that stretch, the Tide's only loss on opening day came in the front end of a doubleheader against Missouri to open the 2010 season. Prior to that, Alabama's next most-recent opening day loss was to 12th-ranked Stanford at the start of the 2004 season.

Senior infielder Kaila Hunt has been a consistent source of power in the Alabama lineup over the past three seasons, and now she has a chance to etch her name at the top of the Tide record books. Heading into the 2014 season, she has 46 career home runs, only 15 shy of breaking Kelly Kretschman's (1998-01) career record of 60. The Evans, Ga., native is averaging just over 15 home runs per season, blasting a career-best 21 in the Tide's national championship 2012 season. Besides Kretschman, the only Tide players to surpass 50 career home runs are Charlotte Morgan (58, 2007-10) and Amanda Locke (54, 2008-12).

Alabama and Arizona State are the only two Division-I programs in the country that return three NFCA All-America players from last season. The Tide welcomes back seniors Jackie Traina and Kaila Hunt as well as sophomore Haylie McCleney. Hunt earned a second-straight spot on the second team, joined by first-timer McCleney in her freshman season. Traina earned her third-straight All-America nod, settling on the third team.

Traina had a bit of an off-year last season owing to an injury, but she is healthy this year and Murphy expects her to return to the form that made her the MVP of the Women's College World Series when Bama won the national championship in 2012.

Alabama Coach Patrick Murphy is approaching yet another milestone in his storied career at the helm of the Crimson Tide. With a 789-213 (.787) record over 15 seasons, he is only 11 wins shy of his 800th at Alabama. Entering the 2014 season, only 13 active Division-I head coaches own at least 800 wins at their current school. Leading the way is Mike Candrea of Arizona, who has 1,343 wins in 26 seasons.

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