Jennifer Fenton will be wreaking havoc on the basepaths.
The Alabama senior and Kennesaw native will lead her team in its first game with Tennessee, looking to bring the Crimson Tide their first national championship in softball.
It’s Fenton’s third and final trip to the Women’s College World Series, and much like her first two visits as a freshman and junior, she will use her feet to get things going. The Kennesaw Mountain High School graduate is one of the most successful base-stealers in NCAA history, having been caught just four times in 136 attempts — a 97.1-percent success rate.
Fenton made history April 6 with her steal of third base in the third inning of Alabama’s game against LSU. That gave Fenton 74 successful attempts without being thrown out, breaking the NCAA record of 73 shared by Texas A&M’s Sharonda McDonald (2004-06) and Georgia’s Nicole Barber (2001-02).
“I didn’t know at first. It wasn’t until afterward that I knew,” Fenton said of her record run, which began March 3, 2010. “But, once I found out, I was very excited. I take a lot of pride getting in scoring position.”
Though the streak ended at 74 one day later, Fenton went right back to work, successfully stealing 16 of her next 17 bases to give her 43 heading into tonight’s game with the Southeastern Conference rival Lady Vols.
Successful base-stealing is also predicated on good timing. Softball is different than baseball, in that a baserunner cannot take a lead off the base before the pitcher releases the ball.
“It’s a combination with good timing,” Fenton said. “Instead of watching the ball leave the pitcher’s hand, I watch the pitcher’s footing. I watch the back foot lift up and start from there.”
Fenton’s knack for reaching base couldn’t be possible without success at the plate, and she’s got that going for her, too. A career .361 hitter, Fenton is batting a team-best .389 this year with 63 runs scored, four home runs and 38 RBIs.
“I get on base, and from there I try to get into scoring position,” said the center fielder, who’s hit primarily from the second spot in the lineup. “I know I’m going to score because I’ve got good hitters hitting behind me.”
When Fenton does reach base, a usual benefactor is Kaila Hunt, who leads Alabama with 20 home runs and 74 RBIs.
Fenton’s success hasn’t been without its share of adulation. She was named to the all-SEC first team, was part of the SEC all-tournament team for the third time and, on Wednesday, was named a third-team All-American by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association.
She’s also balanced her academics successfully. The early education major is a six-time member of the university’s Dean’s List and was voted the SEC’s Co-Scholar Athlete of the Year in softball.
Fenton’s success with her bat, her feet and her glove — she’s error-free in 51 chances — has reflected on the team’s success. Alabama (55-7) swept through the SEC tournament, and then did the same in the regional and the super regional rounds of the NCAA tournament to reach the World Series.
Now, the Crimson Tide have found themselves as one of the nation’s final eight teams. All the teams, of course, share the common goal of hoisting the champion’s trophy early next week.
Championships have almost been second nature in Tuscaloosa, particularly this spring. The school has already claimed titles in football, women’s gymnastics and women’s golf, and Alabama’s men’s golf team also is contending for a championship this week in California.
It won’t be easy, though — at least, if history has anything to say about it. Since the first NCAA softball championship was given out in 1982, no school east of the Mississippi River has won it all.
“I think we’ve got what it takes,” Fenton said. “Everybody is on the same page. In the past, it was maybe 16 of 18 (players), or 17 of 19. This year, all 20 of us are on the same page.
“We just have to play our game, and that will get us over the hump.”
Regardless of what happens in Oklahoma City, Fenton looks back with pride on her time at Alabama, from her time as a recruit from Kennesaw Mountain to her role as the Crimson Tide’s veteran leader.
“It’s really been an honor to wear this Alabama jersey,” she said. “It’s because of my teammates that I’ve had this experience, and it would not have been possible without them. It’s been an honor and a privilege, and I’m truly blessed.”