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Alabama Softball Readies for Familiar Foe in WCWS Opener

By Katie Windham,


OKLAHOMA CITY — There is some uncertainty surrounding Alabama's first game at the Women's College World Series, particularly around who might be starting in the circle, but one thing there won't be is unfamiliarity.

The Crimson Tide opens play against the Tennessee Volunteers , a team it has already faced four times this season. The Volunteers took two of the three games in the regular season series on the way to the regular season conference title, and then knocked Alabama out of the SEC Tournament, going on to win their first SEC Tournament title since 2011.

Even though only one seed separates No. 4 Tennessee and No. 5 Alabama, Crimson Tide head coach Patrick Murphy views his team as big underdogs.

"They double dipped in the SEC, they won the regular season and the tournament, so they're the favorite," Murphy said in a preview press conference Wednesday. "They're the favorite in this game. We're the underdogs big-time. I feel like we're like the little engine that could."

Despite losing three of the four head-to-head matchups and being a team that has struggled offensively for much of the season, Alabama has been able to put up more runs on Tennessee than almost any other team.

The Volunteers have one of the best pitching staffs in the country Ashley Rogers. The fifth-year pitcher has an 18-1 record this season with a 0.75 ERA. Only one team scored more than two earned runs on Rogers in an outing this season. That team? Alabama.

Rogers did effectively shut Alabama down in the first meeting between the two teams, only allowing one run on three hits over seven innings.

Crimson Tide catcher Ally Shipman played at Tennessee for three seasons before transferring to Alabama. Shipman said Rogers is one of the only people left at Tennessee that she played with and is close with.

The staff also features senior Payton Gottshall and SEC Freshman of the Year Karlyn Pickens. In the last meeting between Alabama and Tennessee in the SEC Tournament, Pickens gave up four runs in the first inning without recording an out. Gottshall was able to get the Lady Vols back on track, only allowing two runs on an Ashley Prange home run over seven innings of relief work. But Alabama was able to put up runs on both pitchers in the regular season.

On the Alabama side in the circle, the Tennessee series was the only series this season that Crimson Tide ace Montana Fouts had multiple rough outings against the same opponent. The Lady Vols put up five runs on Fouts in both of her starts.

Disappointed with her performance that weekend, Fouts seemed to switch into another gear after that series. She did not allow an earned run in five of her next six starts and threw seven complete-game shutouts during the final stretch of the season.

"I could just tell by her commitment and focus after that series, there was a look in her eye that said I'm going to compete and I'm going to get better for the team," Shipman said about Fouts. "And she did that, and she did it really well."

Redshirt sophomore Alex Salter picked up the complete game win in game two of the regular season series for Alabama's lone victory over Tennessee this season. Jaala Torrence, who has been a huge part of Alabama's postseason success, has not started a game against the Lady Vols this season, but has appeared in relief twice. Her emergence is one of the biggest differences for Alabama since last playing Tennessee.

"Alabama is going to be a different team tomorrow than they were last time we faced them," Tennessee head coach Karen Weekly said. "We're a different team than last time we faced them. They've done a great job of treating each day as new, recognizing even if that is a team is somebody we faced, they're going to be new and different this time."

Tennessee is having one of its best seasons in program history. It's the first time the Lady Vols have won the SEC regular season and tournament championships in the same season, highest postseason seeding at No. 4 and first trip to the WCWS since 2015. And Alabama wouldn't mind spoiling this special season for the Volunteers and sending them to the losers bracket on the opening day when the two teams meet at 11 a.m. Thursday in Oklahoma City.

"Either way, I think it will be a really entertaining game– we always have good games between Tennessee and Alabama," Murphy said. "It could go either way."

See also:

WCWS Notebook: Alabama's Montana Fouts Has Rock Star Status

How to Watch Alabama in the 2023 Women's College World Series

Everything Alabama Softball Said at WCWS Opening Press Conference

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