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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The top-ranked Alabama softball team (22-1) will open Southeastern Conference play in Knoxville this weekend as it will face No. 8 Tennessee (19-3). The two league rivals will start the series on Friday, March 8, with first pitch slated for 5:30 p.m., from Lee Stadium.
LAST TIME OUT
The Alabama softball team suffered its first loss of the season as it fell to No. 4 Florida, in a rare non-conference matchup on Wednesday at Rhoads Stadium. The Crimson Tide held the lead into the sixth inning, but eventually fell to the Gators, 8-4. Junior Jackie Traina (10-1) was tagged with her first loss of the season while senior Kayla Braud collected two hits and stole two bases.
WHO TO WATCH
Over the last 10 games sophomore Danielle Richard has paced the Tide at the plate with a team-leading .542 average and 13 hits. The third baseman has also scored nine runs, hit a team-high three home runs and swiped five bases. Over that 10-game span, Kaila Hunt has hit .478 with a home run and a team-leading 12 RBI and 12 walks. She also leads the team with a .649 on base percentage. In the circle, Leslie Jury is 3-0 with an unblemished 0.00 ERA and has struck out 18 in 18 2/3 innings pitched.
Tennessee welcomes the Tide to Knoxville with a 19-3 mark so far this season, with losses to Northwestern, UCLA and College of Charleston. The Volunteers have a .346 batting average with 164 runs on 199 hits and 17 home runs while stealing 53 bases. The team ERA is 1.15, striking out 156 batters in 140 innings. Tennessee has held opponents to a .164 batting average. Senior Raven Chavanne leads the Volunteers offensively with a .471 average, scoring 24 runs with 32 hits and stealing 17 bases in 17 attempts. With five home runs, Cheyanne Tarango powers the Volunteer bats with a .361 average and 24 RBI. In the circle, Ellen Renfroe heads up Tennessee’s staff, sporting a 0.80 ERA, striking out 67 batters in 52 1/3 innings and holding batters to a .163 average. Over the course of their 12-year tenure as co-head coaches in Knoxville, Ralph and Karen Weekly have tallied a 566-176-1 overall record.
With a 32-16 lead in the series, Alabama prepares to play the 49th game against the Volunteers. Last year in conference play the two teams split the series in a double header on March 21 with the No. 1 Tide taking the first in an 11-inning 3-2 decision and the No. 11 Volunteers taking the second game, 5-2. Jackie Traina threw almost 200 pitches before taking the game offensively with a two-out, walk-off home run. Alabama saw Tennessee again May 31 in the College World Series, dolling out the No. 7 Tennessee’s first loss (5-3) in the double elimination tournament. Alabama wasted no time putting up four runs in the bottom of the first inning headed by Cassie Reilly-Boccia’s three run double.
Alabama enters its SEC opening weekend with a lot of success. In league openers the Crimson Tide holds a 12-4 all-time record. In SEC opening series Alabama is 41-10 overall. The last and only time the Tide lost an SEC opening series was against Tennessee in 2005. Last season Alabama swept Kentucky in Lexington, including two by the way of run-rule.
MURPHY CLOSING IN ON 800
Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy is rapidly closing in on 800 wins for his career. Murphy enters the weekend with a 794-219 record in 16 seasons, 15 while at the helm of the Crimson Tide. At Alabama, Murphy has accumulated a 766-199 record. He spent one season at Northwest Missouri State, where he went 28-20 in his first head coaching assignment.
ALABAMA ON THE ROAD IN SEC
Alabama heads to Knoxville with a 157-71 record all-time on the road during conference play. The Crimson Tide has never had a losing season on the road on the league circuit, with its worst record coming in 1999, when they finished 8-8. UA has tallied 10 or more wins on the road, nine times, finished with a program best 13 wins, three times.
SEC TEAM STATS
Alabama’s .345 batting average and 25 home runs rank third in the SEC, with their 173 runs and 149 RBI standing second. The Tide is first in the SEC steals category reaching 68-of-71 times. Alabama is also second in hitting with 198, which is one behind rival Tennessee. The Tide’s pitching staff has recorded the lowest SEC ERA with a .97 mark. Alabama is second in strikeouts with 172 and second in opposing batting average allowing a .160 average. (As of March 5)
SEC INDIVIDUAL STATS
Haylie McCleney is first in the SEC in batting average (.559), runs scored (31) and hits (38). She is second in total bases with 60, tied for second in stolen bases with 19, third in on base percentage at .595, fourth in doubles with seven and tied for third in triples with three. Kaila Hunt is fourth in slugging with a .947 average, second in RBI with 28, tied for second in doubles with eight and third in home runs with seven. Jackie Traina’s 0.64 ERA is third in the SEC as is her 93 batters struck out. Traina is tied for second in wins with 10. (As of March 5)
NEXT TIME OUT
Alabama will continue SEC play on the road as it will head to Columbia, S.C., to take on the Gamecocks in a three game series. The series opener is set for Friday, March, with first pitch slated for 6 p.m. CT.
Christopher Walsh covers Alabama football for BamaOnline, 247Sports, and is the author of 18 books.
247Sports In partnership with CBS Sports