Jan. 21, 2009
Head Coach Patrick Murphy has seen his share of great infielders over the years. As different groups of players come and go and positions are vacated and filled, Murphy often wonders how he will top the previous bunch of talent. As easy as the transitions may sometime seem, replacing his current crop of all-star infielders might be more difficult than in years past.
"We talk about several players from the past that nobody ever thought we could replace that kid," said Murphy. "I look around and you could realistically say that Kelley Montalvo is the best third baseman we've ever had, Kellie Eubanks is best shortstop we've ever had, Lauren Parker is the best second baseman we've ever had and Charlotte Morgan is the best first baseman we've ever had. You don't have that group very often and they play well together."
Of that group of the four potential starters, three are first-team All-Americans. With such an accomplished group poised to lead the defensive effort, big things are expected out of the Tide's infielders this season.
At third base, Montalvo held down the hot corner in 2008 en route to a first-team All-American selection and being named to the Southeastern Conference All-Defensive Team after committing only three errors in 175 chances, paving the way for an impressive .983 fielding percentage.
Complementing Montalvo on the left side is Eubanks who started 65 of 66 games at shortstop in 2008. In addition to the excellent range she has displayed provided by her six-foot frame, Eubanks also turned in powerful numbers at the plate where she hit .269 with 10 doubles, eight home runs and 42 RBI. All were career highs for the senior from Louisiana.
"The two on the left side refuse to let a ball through," said Murphy.
After battling a shoulder injury for the last half to the 2008 season, Parker looks to make a strong return to second base in 2009. Subsequent to being a first-team All-American selection her sophomore season, Parker was only able start 37 games for the Tide during her junior year. Although she saw limited action last season, she was still able to post a .310 batting average with nine home runs, eight doubles and 38 RBI.
Rounding out the star-studded infield is the first baseman Morgan who was selected as a first-team All-American in 2008 and chosen as one of 10 finalists for the ASA/USA Softball Player of the Year. Morgan led the nation in total RBI with 79 which set both Alabama and SEC single-season records. She finished with a .417 batting average, 19 home runs, 19 doubles, 156 total bases, a .813 slugging percentage and a .489 on-base average.
"I think Lauren, when she is out there, is one of the best defensive players in the country," said Murphy. "Charlotte has made only one error in two years at first base, so she has it covered too. I think another thing about her is that she is really the type of first baseman that makes everybody better because she will save a bad throw or make a great play and help the other three fielders out."
Leading the way behind the plate and serving as the Crimson Tide's chief of the defense is returning starter Ashley Holcombe. In the 2008 season Holcombe earned second-team All-SEC honors and was chosen as the SEC All-Defensive catcher. Highlighting her strong defensive effort last season was a .988 overall fielding percentage. Holcombe bested that number in SEC play by fielding 1.000 percent in 209 chances. Aside from her stout defensive numbers, she hit a career-best .294 with 13 doubles, seven home runs and 25 RBI.
"In our opinion, we think Ashley Holcombe is the best catcher in the country," said Murphy. "Very few people try to run on her and she does a great job of blocking. She is probably one of the best leaders we've ever had behind the plate. She takes control of the game and does everything you want out of a catcher, and she's a senior."
From behind the plate to first base and back over to third, this group of infielders looks to make a huge impact for the Crimson Tide in 2009. With a strong showing defensively and continued production at the plate, the cast of talent assembled here figures to be one not easily reckoned with or easily forgotten.