Reflections On 2007 Season

University of Alabama head softball coach Patrick Murphy continued to raise the bar with another successful season in 2007. Following his ninth season at the helm, Murphy reflected on the year that featured numerous school records, the first No. 1 ranking and another trip to the NCAA Tournament.

From the first pitch in February until the end of the regular season in late May, the Crimson Tide put together perhaps the top offensive seasons in Alabama softball history and were one of the top offensive teams in the nation. Alabama opened the year on fire with 46 runs in five games to claim the Century-Tel Softball Classic title at Texas State in San Marcos, Texas. The bats remained strong the rest of the way into the NCAA Tournament where they tallied 47 runs in five NCAA Regional games and eight more in the two NCAA Super Regional contests.

It was in the NCAA Regional when the Tide's backs were against the wall and the offense showed just how good they could be against some stiff competition. In the opening game, Alabama fell to Tennessee Tech by the score of 4-2. Facing elimination Jordan Praytor and Kelley Montalvo got the Tide rolling against Florida State. Praytor matched a school record with four walks in part of a streak of seven straight plate appearances with a walk for the junior from Vancouver, Wash. She set up Montalvo who broke the single game record with three doubles to lead UA to a 6-3 win over the Seminoles. The second game of elimination Saturday saw the Tide and Cal Bears go head-to-head, but Bama represented the SEC in fine fashion, cruising to a 13-1 victory in five innings.

"Saturday we put her (Montalvo) in the three spot and she took over from there in the next four games," said Murphy. "She was as good as anybody we have ever had there. Especially in those circumstances and how she performed with a lot of pressure. She helped everybody get loose and they followed her lead with how well she was hitting."

On the final day Alabama had to win two straight games against Tennessee Tech to advance. The offense from the day before carried over and UA pounded out a 19-10 victory in the first game. Several school records fell in the game as the Tide set single game marks for runs scored (19), RBI (18) and home runs (five). Freshman Charlotte Morgan hit two home runs in the contest to record the 23rd multi-home run game in school history.

"It started out like it was going to be a five-inning game and then they had a good comeback," said Murphy. "After that our hitters, instead of getting tight, really relaxed and showed what they could do in those last two innings. We had doubles in the gap and home runs, it was just a lot of fun to watch. Any pitcher that would have been out there probably would have gotten hit."

Bama, making its ninth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, went on to win 7-2 and capture its fifth NCAA Regional Championship and third straight crown. It marked the first time in school history that the Tide lost a game in a regional or super regional and rallied to advance. UA now owns a 16-3 all-time record during NCAA postseason play in Tuscaloosa.

"I don't think we have ever lost a game and came back to win," said Murphy. "We have either gone undefeated or lost two and were eliminated. It was definitely something we all thought we needed to prove to ourselves. As soon as the offense started to get going on Saturday it was going to be hard to stop us."

The Crimson Tide went on to the NCAA Super Regional for the third straight season and squared off against the University of Washington in Seattle. A pair of plays bounced in the Huskies' direction and they took both games by a total of only three runs to move on and end Alabama's season at 55-10.

"After having to come back after losing the first game of the NCAA Regional was huge for everybody," said Murphy. "Especially the returnees I think they finally found a fighting attitude within the team. Then to have to go across the country to a PAC-10 school for NCAA Super Regionals, we knew it was going to be tough. Washington was very good and they proved that by winning the first two games of the Women's College World Series. One hit or one pitch goes our way instead and we could have been playing in the World Series."

With the season coming to an end it is easy to look back and see how good the 2007 Tide team really was. When the final NCAA statistics came out, Bama ended up leading the country in four different categories and ranking in the top-10 in six areas. The Crimson Tide was the national leader in scoring (7.12 runs per game), batting avg. (.335), slugging pct. (.551) and stolen bases per game (2.91). They were also second with a .846 winning pct. and 10th with 1.22 home runs per contest.

"The goal from the coaching staff at the very first practice in September was to lead the country in stolen bases," said Murphy. "That was really the only think we talked about statistics-wise. We did that and as the fall went along it was evident to Vann (Stuedeman), Aly (Habetz) and I that this could be a very good offensive team, just watching them hit in practice. I said in early January that it has the potential to be the best offensive team we have ever had."

Besides leading the country in several statistics categories, the Tide also broke numerous school and SEC records. Scoring at a clip of 7.12 runs per game, UA set school and SEC records with 463 runs in 65 games. It was 52 more runs than the previous school record set in 1998. Bama led the country in batting for most of the season and the final .335 avg. was 10 points higher than the record held by the '98 squad. The Tide crushed the single season stolen base record. They tallied 189 swipes in 224 attempts to break the previous record of 138 set in 2000. Alabama's slugging pct. of ..551 broke both the UA and SEC records as it easily passed the record of .527 done by the 1998 team.

The Tide also set school and SEC records for on-base pct. (.432), RBI (405) and home runs (79) along with single game school records for home runs (5 vs. Tennessee Tech on May 20) and stolen bases (9 vs. Northwestern State on April 3). Of all the records the one that stands out the most to Coach Murphy is the RBI record because so many players contributed.

"RBI's was an impressive record because you look through the roster and there were seven kids with 30 or more RBI and six of those had 40 or more which is pretty awesome," said Murphy. "We preach that it is a team game but you look at other teams and you know you will have to really only need to try to get one kid out or you are not going to let one or two kids beat you. When you look at our lineup it really was a team effort. Even our players on the bench who had limited opportunities really did a great job. There wasn't a kid who other teams could really key on because everybody came through for us."

In fact 13 of the 16 players with an at bat this season hit home runs, making Alabama one of only two schools (Alabama and Colorado State) to have 13 players with home runs. The Tide was the only school in the country with all nine every day starters recording four or more long balls and 10 total players with four or more. Six of those players hit seven or more for the season.

"There were a couple of kids who with more chances probably would have hit several home runs as well," said Murphy. "They all came through at the right time and almost every home run meant something too. It wasn't just when we were up big late in the game. They came through when we really needed them."

With all the record-breaking numbers and impressive statistics for the team, Coach Murphy talked about another number that really stood out to him and shows why the 2007 squad was such a great hitting team.

"One of the key things they accomplished that I don't think we have done in the 11 years of the program was walk more times than they struck out," said Murphy. "That is the big key for me. I always preach it but we have never accomplished it. This year showed how powerful those two statistics are and if you walk more good things are going to happen. The on-base percentages were terrific. Kids who didn't necessarily have great batting averages still had an OBP of over .400. We will praise them for that when we start next fall."

A lot of individuals had outstanding seasons for the Crimson Tide. A couple of sophomores put together record-breaking years. Center fielder Brittany Rogers followed up her great freshman season by hitting .402 and leading the team with 88 hits and 68 runs scored. She has hit over .400 in each of her first two seasons now. She also finished fifth in the nation in stolen bases per game and ninth in runs per game. She set the Alabama single season record with 48 stolen bases. She also added a couple of new weapons as she hit for more power and batted from the right side of the plate as well as the left. She accomplished the unthinkable when she hit both inside and outside the park home runs from both the right and left sides of the plate.

"In my mind I was trying to get Brittany to have a stolen base a game when we started," said Murphy. "We played 65 games and she had 48 so that will continue to be a goal her next two years. Her leads were much better this year. We are probably going to try and have her steal third more too because she was very successful this year."

Lauren Parker, a transfer from Baylor, had a breakout season in her first year in a Crimson Tide uniform. She was fifth nationally and second in the SEC with a .457 batting avg. It was the second highest batting avg. in school history after Kelly Kretschman hit .467 in 1998. Parker only had 10 strikeouts the entire season and led the SEC with a .509 OBP.

"She got on a roll in late February and early March and it was almost like she was getting between two and four hits almost every game," said Murphy. "Her teammates started calling her Miss Automatic. It was amazing to watch. It was one of the best years we have ever had by an individual. A lot of people don't know that she played with an injury in her lower right leg all year as well as her shoulder injury at the end of the year. She is a very tough kid and probably didn't play one game without pain in some way or another. We can't wait to see what she can do when she is healthy."

Seniors Mandy Burford and Blair Potter also left their mark on the program in the final year of their careers. Burford matched the single game school record with four stolen bases at Ole Miss on April 21. She also had two games where she hit two home runs, including Louisiana-Lafayette on March 4 where she hit a walk-off three run shot. Potter was a warrior down the stretch and started the final six games of the postseason for Bama. She also recorded the 11th no-hitter in school history when she struck out a career-high 10 batters in five innings against Kentucky on April 29.

"To come in and do what Blair did at the end by carrying us through the postseason was amazing," said Murphy. "Just winning 20 games and going 20-3 was amazing. I don't think anybody expected her to win 20 games so it is a huge credit to her and Vann for getting her to where she needed to be."

Potter and Chrissy Owens both tallied over 20 victories for the Tide. It marked the third straight season that Alabama has had two players with 20 or more wins. Owens recorded her second consecutive 20-win season as she posted a 24-5 record. She also tied the school record for career saves with her 16th this year.

With so many good players on the field for Alabama it made it exciting for the fans at the Alabama Softball Complex. This season the Crimson Tide had record-breaking attendance figures. With over 1,100 season tickets sold prior to the season opener, the Tide posted seven of the top-10 attendance numbers in school history, including the four largest crowds. For the first time ever, UA broke the 2,000 mark as they had 2,035 fans come out to the first day of senior weekend against Kentucky on April 28. For the season the Tide averaged 1,436 fans per home date.

"When we got over 1,000 tickets sold in January we thought now all we need is about 700 of them to show up every game and we would get the walkup crowd," said Murphy. "Then it seemed like they all came every game. We had almost 2,000 people for the Auburn game when it was 45 degrees and windy. That is just unreal for us to think we could get over capacity and a sellout crowd. We hope all of them got hooked and will keep coming back and bring more people."

The 2007 season also saw Alabama climb to No. 1 in the national polls for the first time in school history. On May 1 they received 17 of the 20 first place votes to take the top spot in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top-25. The next day they claimed 20 of the 25 first place votes for No. 1 in the USA Today/NFCA Top-25. Bama was ranked in the top five in all 14 regular season polls and have been ranked in the top-10 for 32 consecutive weeks.

The exciting thing for Coach Murphy is the fact that eight of the nine everyday starters in the batting order will return, including the entire infield and catcher. Also the Tide's leading pitcher, Chrissy Owens, will come back for her senior season.

"We kept thinking that this year we were going to be good but next year was going to be our chance to really be good," said Murphy. "Obviously we all think that with the kids we have coming in and the people we have coming back we should have a great year. We will have our six top hitters back and eight of the nine defensive starters. All of us are very excited. It can't come soon enough."

The Tide ended the 2007 season with a record of 55-10. It was the eighth straight year the Tide won over 40 games and fifth time they tallied over 50 victories. The .846 winning pct. was the best in the 11-year school history.


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