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May 22, 2012

Tide's Hunt closing on home run record

TUSCALOOSA | Kaila Hunt doesn't look like a power hitter, but she bats like one.

The University of Alabama's sophomore shortstop hit 10 home runs last year as a rookie. Going into this weekend's Tuscaloosa Super Regional against Michigan, she has 19 and is within striking distance of the school record of 25 in a season set by Kelly Kretschman in 1998 - particularly if the second-seeded Crimson Tide can play its way back to the Women's College World Series with two victories against the Wolverines.

It's fair to ask how Hunt, at 5-foot-6, generates that kind of power.

"I think she's got one of the most fundamentally sound swings on the team," Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. "We saw that way back in October, September, and she has the least amount of corrections (needed) on the team, just fundamentally very good, and she gets to the ball quick.

"She's very strong for her size. She worked very hard in the weight room. The ball comes off her bat. She's got strong wrists and strong forearms and just good bat speed. She uses her lower body very well. She generates from shoelaces to the shoulders, and not a lot of kids do that."

Hunt doesn't consider herself a powerhouse. She credits the power surge from her freshman to sophomore season to an adjustment her coach asked her to make.

"I think the difference between this year and last year is at the end of the year last year Murph wanted me to start working on having my hands higher," she said. "Last year my hands were down where my armpit is, but now they're up by my ear. It creates kind of more whip toward the ball, so you get that backspin.

"He told me that if I worked on that, I would hit more home runs. He was right. I'll take it."

Said Murphy, "She's very coachable. A lot of kids might say, 'I hit .459 in high school, why do I need to change?' She didn't say that at all."

Hunt does more than hit home runs. At last weekend's Tuscaloosa Regional, she drove in her 70th run of the season - a plateau only Charlotte Morgan had previously reached at UA in a single season. She also carries a .319 average.

The Crimson Tide's power hitter batted in the fourth or fifth spot in UA's batting order for most of the season. For the last four games, she has moved up to third - putting her behind table-setters Kayla Braud and Jennifer Fenton, and ahead of fellow sluggers Amanda Locke and Jackie Traina. The move has forced pitchers to pitch to her, and she has come through by going 6-for-14 (.429) with 10 RBIs and four runs scored in that span with just one strikeout.

"You can't pitch around me to get to Locke," Hunt said. "I mean, I wouldn't want to, that's for sure. You can't really pitch around one hitter with our team. I think that plays to my advantage. For sure it helps."

Hunt has also been willing to hit singles instead of swinging for the fences.

"I know earlier in the year I was like half-and-half on hits and home runs. Like half my hits were home runs," she said. "People look at my numbers and they're not going to give me that fatty to hit, so I'm just taking singles. I'll take that all day."

Reach Tommy Deas at tommy@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0224.


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