Lynnwood High School graduate Maddie Morgan is the starting third baseman for the fourth-ranked University of Alabama softball team. (Amelia B. Barton / University of Alabama)

Lynnwood High School graduate Maddie Morgan is the starting third baseman for the fourth-ranked University of Alabama softball team. (Amelia B. Barton / University of Alabama)

Lynnwood High graduate has found a sweet home in Alabama

Maddie Morgan is playing a key role for the fourth-ranked University of Alabama softball team.

Maddie Morgan received a series of shocks upon joining the University of Alabama softball team. 

First, there was the culture shock of going from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeast. Then there was the athletic shock of transitioning from high school and club fastpitch to elite college ball.

But the strongest shock? That would be the climate.

“The weather was the most different for me,” Morgan recalled. “Coming from the Northwest where it’s cold and raining to here where it’s hot and humid, it was definitely a change.”

It took the former Lynnwood High School star a while to adjust to the changes, but now that she’s found her comfort zone, she’s become a key member of a team with national-championship aspirations.

Morgan is starting at third base as a sophomore for the Crimson Tide, who are ranked No. 4 in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association NCAA Division I poll. And she’s successfully crossed the divide between being a wide-eyed freshman trying to find her way in a new place to being an important contributor on one of the best teams in the nation.

“She’s a totally different kid from last year,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. “Last year she was trying to learn the ropes as a college freshman, dealing with workouts, practices, classes, everything. But she came back as a totally different kid, she had a lot more energy, and she really worked her butt off to earn a starting spot.”

Morgan is excelling in her first season as a starter at Alabama. She’s started 52 of the Crimson Tide’s 56 games, and she’s fourth on the team in batting at .304. She’s chipped in four home runs, 26 RBI and an .896 OPS.

She’s doing it for a team in the midst of a banner season. Alabama rattled off 33 straight wins to open the season, and after sweeping No. 9 LSU over the weekend, the Crimson Tide are 50-6 and Southeastern Conference champions. Morgan played her part over the weekend, hitting a solo homer that stood up as the winning run in Saturday’s 4-3 victory. Alabama heads into the SEC tournament, which begins Thursday in College Station, Texas, as the top seed.

That’s nothing new for a program that’s one of the best in the nation. Softball is part of the culture at Alabama. The Crimson Tide have made it to the past 20 NCAA tournaments, including winning the national title in 2012. Alabama plays its home games before sold-out crowds at Rhoads Stadium, which at a capacity of 3,940 is the largest on-campus softball stadium in the country.

That was the atmosphere Morgan stepped into last season as a freshman. She came to Alabama with impeccable credentials. She was playing for the Washington Ladyhawks 18-under team when she was just 14 and committed to the Crimson Tide as a high school freshman. As a senior at Lynnwood, she hit an astounding .712 and was named The Herald’s 2017 Softball Player of the Year.

But Morgan had a tough adjustment upon her arrival at Alabama. She played sparingly as a freshman, appearing in just 23 games, and hitting just .158.

“I was real excited (upon arriving Alabama), but it was overwhelming because of the big atmosphere here, there’s just a lot going on,” Morgan said.

Most of Morgan’s freshman season was about getting acclimated. The offseason was when she went to work on her game. She put in considerable time during the offseason, specifically tweaking her swing to use her legs more and generate greater power. She worked on the mental side of the game, too, building the confidence to know she belonged at this level.

“I’m just more comfortable with the surroundings and atmosphere here at Alabama,” Morgan said. “It’s definitely a different atmosphere when you get here, but I’m more comfortable with the position, myself and everything.”

Then she went out and won a starting job. Morgan didn’t enter the offseason as a starter, but emerged from the offseason — which included an 11-day tour of Japan — with the third-base job in her back pocket.

Morgan has won over the rabid Alabama softball fans, too. Morgan is a high-energy player who is one of the team’s leaders when it comes to being vocal on the field, directing a constant stream of chatter and encouragement toward her teammates.

“With the positive energy she brings every day, whether it’s in practices or games, she’s become a crowd favorite with all the Alabama fans,” Murphy said. “They love watching her play. Her spirit and demeanor on the field is awesome.”

Indeed, when Morgan hit her first collegiate home run in an 11-5 home victory over Missouri on March 10, a young fan brought the ball to Morgan to be signed. Morgan was happy to sign the ball for the fan rather than haggle for the milestone memento.

Now that Morgan has found her way at Alabama and established herself as a regular, she has just one thing on her mind: winning a national championship.

“We are 100-percent capable of winning a national title,” she said. “We’re very capable of doing that. We have five great pitchers who all throw differently, our hitting and defense have been consistent, and all the girls on the team are fighters who never give up on each other.”

No doubt the Crimson Tide will run into adversity on their path toward that goal. But in Morgan, Alabama has a player who’s proven she can handle the shocks.

If you have an idea for a community sports story, email Nick Patterson at npatterson@heraldnet.com.

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