Ask any casual sports fan to name the most popular college sports, and they’ll likely hear football, basketball, and baseball. Yet, in the last couple of decades, women’s softball has been the fastest-growing college sport. From 2003-04 to 2016-17, softball saw revenue growth of 217.4%, according to Softball America — more than college baseball, football, and basketball.
That surging popularity stems in large part from some of the phenomenal athletes in the softball world. Just consider University of Alabama softball star Montana Fouts. Let’s look at Fouts’ careers and check out the enormous respect she’s garnered from coaches and the media.
Montana Fouts’ high school career
Softball is nothing new to the 20-year-old Fouts, who has played since the age of five. While still in middle school in Grayson, Kentucky, Fouts made the leap to playing at the high school level. By the time she had started her freshman year, she was already clearly the ace pitcher on the East Carter High School’s Lady Raiders.
In Fouts’ sophomore year, she led the Lady Raiders all the way to the 16th Region Tournament title — a feat she would repeat in the following two seasons. Through her junior year, Fouts’ had racked up a 111-14 record, while striking out 1,483 batters over the course of 797 innings. She had a blisteringly low ERA of 0.39.
Her numbers took an even greater leap as a senior, when Fouts compiled a perfect 30-0 record with an ERA of 0.04. Meanwhile, Fouts was also a huge contributor on the offensive side of things, batting .584 with 57 RBIs and eight home runs. That historic year earned Fouts the Kentucky Miss Softball award, as well as her third Gatorade Player of the Year award for softball.
Fouts’ college career so far
As you can imagine, college teams heavily scouted Fouts starting in middle school. It didn’t take Fouts long to decide where she wanted to go, however. Back in 2014, while just in her freshman year of high school, Fouts committed to Alabama, citing the program’s family-oriented approach. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Alabama consistently ranks as one of the top softball programs in the country.
The 6-foot-2 athlete didn’t have any trouble translating her game to the college level. As a freshman, Fouts started 24 games and came away with 21 wins. She had a team-best ERA of 1.39, which was good for the third-best mark in the entire SEC. The pitcher also racked up 193 strikeouts in 181.2 innings. Fouts led the Crimson Tide all the way to the 2019 Women’s College World Series semifinals, which they lost 7-3 to the University of Oklahoma.
Fouts’ sophomore year got off to a slightly rockier start before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. In eight games, Fouts tallied a 3-3 record, with a 2.04 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 37.2 innings pitched.
Praise for Montana Fouts
Though she’s still only 20 years old, Fouts has garnered massive amounts of praise from both her coaches and media members. Her coach at Alabama, Patrick Murphy, has spoken positively about everything from Fouts’ smooth delivery to her unparalleled work ethic. Apparently Fouts works tirelessly to improve her game, getting in extra pitching practice at virtually every opportunity.
“She’s a kid that absolutely is the hardest-working pitcher we’ve ever had in 23 years,” Murphy said in an interview with ESPNW. “And she’s only been here for six months.” Fouts’ combination of hard work and preternatural talent has also led to multiple media outlets drawing comparisons with Jennie Finch, arguably the greatest softball player of all time.
The legend of Fouts’ game has even lead to some incorrect myths about her athletic talents. For instance, a surprising number of fans cling to the idea that Fouts is related to the former San Diego Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts. In actuality, no familial relation exists between them. Like her NFL namesake, however, Fouts has a chance to go down as one of the all-time greats.