Last weekend, Alabama’s softball team won two out of three games from then eighth-ranked LSU in Tuscaloosa. When playing in the Southeastern Conference, however, the next ranked opponent is usually just a weekend away. And so it is that this weekend, in a rare Saturday-Sunday-Monday series, the Crimson Tide faces 14th-ranked Tennessee.
Alabama is also ranked -- ninth in one national poll and 10th in another. The Crimson Tide takes a 36-7 overall record and 10-5 SEC mark into Knoxville to take on the Vols (37-5, including 9-3 in the conference).
All of the games are being televised by SEC Network. Saturday’s contest begins at 6 p.m. EDT (5 Central time) with the Sunday and Monday games at 7 Eastern, 6 Central.
Alabama is led by junior pitcher Alexis Osorio, who is one of 34 finalists for this year’s USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award. Osorio leads the SEC and is ranked fourth nationally with 217 strikeouts, an average of 1.7-per-inning, owning an 18-4 record and 1.12 ERA. She has thrown seven shutouts, helping lead the pitching staff to its highest shutout total in six years (22), just four shy of the single-season school record. In her first start of the 2017 season, she threw the fourth perfect game in program history with a school-record 19 strikeouts. In addition to her perfect game, she has pitched in two combined no-hitters this year and has posted double-digit strikeouts in 10 games.
Osorio is joined in the circle by Sydney Littlejohn, who is third in the SEC with 148 strikeouts, making Alabama and Florida the only SEC schools to have over 300 strikeouts between two starters. Littlejohn also ranks fourth in the SEC with a 0.93 ERA and Osorio is seventh at 1.12.
Bama freshman Bailey Hemphill has been impressive in her first year. She is second in the SEC in walks, one of just two players with 40 or more bases on balls. Her .510 on-base percentage is seventh in the SEC.
Demi Turner and Chandler Dare have also done well at the plate. One or the other is frequently the No. 2 batter in the lineup and they rank first and second in the SEC in sacrifice bunts, Turner with 9, Dare with 7.
At the other end of the spectrum from the bunt, Peyton Grantham has found her power stroke in SEC play, leading the league with four home runs and 14 RBI against conference opponents. Here seven home runs and 39 RBI in all games leads the Tide.
Tennessee has its stars. Meghan Gregg leads the Vols in batting average (.470) and home runs (9), while pitcher Matty Moss has 19 wins with a 1.35 earned run average and 126 strikeouts.
Alabama has an all-time record of 36-21 against Tennessee, including a three-game winning streak, but in the last meeting in Knoxville in 2013, the Tide was a 5-3 loser to the Vols in an NCAA Super Regional.