Deifel's team looks to get back on track at Alabama

Arkansas coach Courtney Deifel directs her team Thursday, March 2, 2023, during the Razorbacks’ 4-0 win over Iowa State at Bogle Park in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — For the University of Arkansas softball team to get back on track after losing four of its last five games, it will take having success somewhere it hasn’t much success before.

Ninth-ranked Arkansas (20-7, 1-2 SEC) has lost its two most recent games against Texas A&M and Wichita State in run-rule fashion. Coach Courtney Deifel’s team will try to right the ship in a place the Razorbacks have won just twice ever, Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The Razorbacks begin a three-game series against No. 16 Alabama (21-6, 0-0 SEC) at Rhoads Stadium today at 4:30 p.m.

Arkansas’ goal since dropping a 10-2, six-inning decision at Wichita State on Tuesday has been to hit the reset button.

“Really, our focus this week has just been to refocus,” Deifel said. “I think that we’ve been worried about the wrong things and so just kind of shifting the focus back to what’s made us good in the past and how we’ve gotten our program to where we are — just focusing on the little things and the process.”

While aiming to win a top-20 series is an important goal, the eighth-year Arkansas coach said she is more concerned with getting back to playing cohesively.

“The series isn’t as big as playing more together is,” Deifel said. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, every game in the SEC is a big game and series are big, but we need to figure out how to play together. … Our team has done a great job until a handful of games. It’s also reminding that this game’s a funny game. So one, the sky’s not falling, we’re fine. It’s a few games. We still are having a great year and we are still a great team. We just have to figure out how to get in the moment better.

“I know, for me, my focus is not going in and winning the series. My focus is going in and playing more like Razorback softball. When we can do those things, then we’ll worry about the outcome later.”

Alabama has yet to play a league game, but like the Razorbacks, have played a grueling non-conference schedule. The Crimson Tide own three wins over top-25 teams, including a 4-3 victory in 11 innings over then-No. 9 Texas last week.

Graduate right-handed pitcher Montana Fouts has been rock solid for Alabama for five seasons, including a 2021 season which won her NFCA Pitcher of the Year honors. Fouts is 10-3 with a 1.71 ERA and leads the SEC with 143 strikeouts.

“I think Montana Fouts has established herself and proven to be one of the best pitchers in the game year in and year out,” Deifel said. “I think that there’s a lot that these athletes have to deal with, more than they ever have. And so I have a lot of respect for what Montana Fouts has to deal with as the face of that program and a fan base that is arguably as competitive [and] as loyal as ours. There’s a lot of things to balance, and so I have a lot of respect for who she is as a softball player and who she is to Alabama softball."

Both the Razorbacks and Crimson Tide have taken their fair share of lumps recently. Alabama enters having lost three of its past five games, including losses to unranked Texas State and Wisconsin.

When the two SEC powerhouse programs take the field tonight, Deifel said she expects to see the Crimson Tide looking sharper.

“I think if you were to ask Alabama or [Coach] Patrick [Murphy], I’m not sure that they’re having the season they want, too,” Deifel said. “They’re learning a lot of lessons also. They have a really strong pitcher and they have a strong team, and sometimes they’re firing and sometimes they’re not…He knows how to get them prepared and better each weekend.

“So, I expect to get the strongest version of Alabama. They always fight. They’re always well prepared and I’m expecting that this weekend.”

All three games of the series will air live on SEC Network.