Photo: 2017 Coosa Christian graduate and UAH sophomore Alaina Hampton (left) tags out a baserunner during a softball game earlier this season. (Chuck Hampton)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Alaina Hampton is making her presence felt in the Rocket City.
Coming off an outstanding 2018 season for the University of Alabama-Huntsville softball program, the 2017 Coosa Christian graduate is picking up right where she left off as the team’s starting catcher.
In 13 games so far this season, Hampton is batting .286 with 12 hits, 11 RBI, seven runs and two doubles. The No. 20 Lady Chargers currently are 11-5 overall and 1-0 in Gulf South Conference action.
Hampton hit her first collegiate grand slam on Feb. 9 against Lincoln College.
Hampton was a 2019 Preseason All-Gulf South Conference selection and one of 50 Division II players across the country placed on the Schutt Sports Watch List for the NCAA Division II Player of the Year Award.
“It took me a little while to get acclimated to the college game from high school and travel ball but everything is going really well,” she said. “I expected the pitching to be faster, but it’s pretty much the same.”
Hampton pointed out that the physical wear and tear is much more pronounced in college softball with the length of the games.
“My body is a little more tired after a game nowadays. In travel ball, we probably had an hour and a half time limit. Now we have to play a full seven innings, and out games (at UAH) are a lot longer. I think we had a game go almost three hours last year.”
In 167 at-bats last season, Hampton finished with a .329 batting average, a .671 slugging percentage, a .415 on-base percentage, 55 hits, 44 runs, a team-best 57 RBI, 15 doubles, 14 home runs (tied for first on the team) and 12 steals. The 2018 Lady Chargers went 39-18 and finished third in the Gulf South Conference en route to the program’s 16th straight NCAA Tournament berth. UAH went 1-2 at the Division II South Super Regional in St. Leo, Fla., and finished the year ranked No. 11 in the final NFCA Division II Top 25 Coaches Poll and as the highest-ranked Gulf South Conference team.
Against Miles College on Apr. 25, Hampton had five hits, two home runs, four runs scored and seven RBI to help UAH set the program record for runs in a single game.
Hampton earned multiple postseason awards, including All-Gulf South Conference first team, D2CCA and NFCA All-South Region first teams, conference player of the week for March 20 and Freshman of the Week for March 20 and April 10.
“It set in when I was on the plane on the way to the regional tournament in Palm Beach, of how incredible it was to be starting as a freshman for a program as [UAH],” she said. “The [co-llege] season is really long and you kind of start to get worn out and asked yourself if it will ever end, but when you get to that point, it makes it all worth it.”
Hampton said that adapting mentally to college ball took quite a bit longer than any athletic adjustment.
“I was a little bit of a basket case last season. I felt a lot of pressure to live up to the expectations of everybody making [me] out to be this great player, and that’s what made it hard. I was just over-thinking and over-analyzing everything. But eventually I settled down and was able to focus and hold myself accountable.”
Hampton also found inspiration from Mississippi State freshman softball player Alex Wilcox, a Brantley native who passed away from ovarian cancer this past June.
“There were times last season when I found myself not taking it seriously enough and asking myself why I was here. But seeing Alex’s story really helped me in keeping focus and put things into perspective. I knew that she would have given anything to be out there playing. I also realized that I was getting my school [tuition] paid for and that some girls wished that they could be in my shoes.”
As an engineering major, Hampton acknowledged that she has little spare time at her disposal after her seeing to her athletic and academic responsibilities.
“My freshman year was definitely hard, and I had to learn how to budget my time really quickly. Putting an engineering major together with playing softball is no walk in the park. But I found a good balance this year and I try to stay ahead as much as I can with my schoolwork, which means taking a lot of homework with me when we travel to away games. I basically always have my books with me and I’m always doing homework.”
As for her day-to-day college routine and responsibilities, Hampton was well-prepared.
“I’ve always been independent with getting myself up on time, taking my laundry and making my own food, so it wasn’t that big of a change. I really haven’t been out that much, other than to eat a few times and watch a hockey game.”
As a senior at Coosa Christian, Hampton was named The Messenger’s Player of the Year after batting .639 with 39 hits, 40 runs, 37 RBI and eight home runs. She walked only 28 times and did not have a strikeout. In a game against Ashville, Hampton tied an Alabama High School Athletic Association record for number of doubles in a single game with four doubles. Her five hits in that same game tied her with the second-most hits in a single game.
Hampton was a first-team all-state selection her soph-omore, junior, and senior years and made the all-county and all-area teams in each of her four varsity seasons. She also participated in the North-South All-Star Game following her junior season.
During her sophomore season at Glencoe High in 2015, Hampton batted .561 with 69 hits, 37 RBI and 52 runs to help the Lady Yellow Jackets win the Class 3A, Area 11 Tournament title and finish third in the regional tournament.