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Alabama Uses Come Back Magic, ASU Sets Up Finals Rematch

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(Photo By Stan Griffin)

TUSCALOOSA, Al.-- With an astounding 38-game NCAA regional winning streak on the line, a streak dating back to 2007, the eighth-seeded Alabama softball team on Saturday was forced to utilize some ingredients it has not relied on often in 2019 as it battled Arizona State at the Tuscaloosa Regional.

Those being a good measure of resiliency a bit of comeback magic and clutch work off the bench.

But in a game where it trailed on a couple of early occasions, host Alabama simply survived against the Sun Devils 7-4, thanks mainly to a big rally in the third inning keyed by a double from senior Caroline Hardy.

The Crimson Tide improved to 54-7 and advanced to the regional championship Sunday with the win while the Sun Devils fell to 34-19.

"That was a major league battle and that was awesome against a really, really good hitting team, and just a good team overall," said Alabama coach Patrick Murphy. "I am proud of the fact that we bounced back and had out pitcher's back today and it's usually the other way around. We've talked all year long about when it's your time, blessings will be bestowed upon you. And this one (Hardy) has stuck with it from day one and never complains and is the ultimate teammate. She would get robbed and we'd always say blessings are coming. And today she got them. It couldn't happen to a better kid."

Arizona State jumped to a quick start in the top of the first inning against Alabama freshman starter Montana Fouts, the 2019 Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year, plating two runs on two hits. The big blow was a two-run homer over the centerfield wall by Sun Devil right fielder Kindra Hackbarth.

The Crimson Tide, however, matched the Sun Devils in the bottom half, tallying a pair of runs itself.

Kaylee Tow drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and the other run came across via a single by Bailey Hemphill.

The Sun Devils regained the lead in the top of the second, sending seven to the plate, taking advantage of a pair of Crimson Tide errors, and a big RBI single by Skylar McCarty. In that same inning, Arizona State's Morgan Howe was tagged out by senior catcher Reagan Dykes, although Howe vehemently protested that she was safe on the play.

Alabama trimmed the Sun Devil lead to one run in the bottom of the second as Dykes blasted a solo homer, her seventh, over the leftfield wall to make the Arizona State advantage 4-3.

The host Crimson Tide evened the score at 4-4 in the bottom of the third inning as after Tow doubled to center, Skylar Wallace singled her in. After a walk to Maddie Morgan loaded the bases, Hardy cranked her pivotal two-bagger to deep centerfield, scoring all three runners and putting Alabama on top in this slugfest 7-4. By now the Alabama fans in Rhoads Stadium were in full frenzy.

"I was just so happy,” said Hardy. “I didn’t think, I was just running. I should have looked in the alley on whether I should have gone to second or not. Thankfully I didn’t get thrown out.”

Although Alabama was unable to produce any more runs in the game, Fouts basically cruised after her early struggles during the first two innings.

In her seven innings of work she allowed three earned runs on seven hits while walking two and striking out 12.

"I think we have to give credit to Arizona State (for Fouts' early struggles) as they showed up and they were ready to play from the start and from the first pitch," said Dykes. "We always talk about the Rhoads crowd and that didn't really affect (the Sun Devils) in the first couple of innings. They put the ball in play and just having a freshman (starting in regionals) for the first time, it's her first experience. Once the hitters got her back and after they put up a few runs, she was in control."

Cielo Meza (7-3) took the loss for the Sun Devils and Hackbarth led Arizona State with two runs batted in while McCarty added two hits.

"I think it was a heckuva ball game and it was a lot of fun," said Arizona State coach Trisha Ford. "Obviously Alabama played a great game and I thought we played a great game and I kept telling (her players) that this is a heavyweight fight right now."

Arizona State 10, Lipscomb 1

In the nightcap of Saturday's tripleheader at the Tuscaloosa Regional, the Sun Devils (35-19) broke open a tight game late to advance to Sunday's regional championship against No. 8 seed Alabama.

Lipscomb (42-15-1) got on the scoreboard first in the bottom of the first inning. Graysen Gladden led off with a walk, went to second on a fielder's choice play and then to third on a single by Jordan Fortel. She came home to score on a passed ball to put the Bisons up 1-0.

Arizona State had a golden scoring opportunity in the top of the second. DeNae Chatman walked with one out and then Yannira Acuna doubled to right, but on that same play Chatman was nailed at home plate trying to score.

The Sun Devils were able to tie the score at 1-1 in the top of the third. Bella Loomis led off the inning with a double to center and later came in to score on a single to right by Kindra Hackbarth.

In the top of the fifth, Loomis reach on an error with two outs and then Morgan Howe cranked what appeared to be a run-scoring extra base hit for the Sun Devils, but Lipscomb freshman left fielder Amy Vetula made a spectacular diving catch to save a run and preserve the tie.

In the bottom half of the inning, Vetula and Destinee Brewer were able to reach via singles, and both runners were able to advance with only one out. Lipscomb, however, was unable to cash in on this opportunity against Sun Devil hurler Samantha Mejia and the game remained tied.

Arizona State broke the deadlock in the top of the sixth.

Skylar McCarty led off with a double and then Kindra Hackbarth singled. Jade Gortarez had an RBI single to put the Sun Devils on top, and then after a walk to Maddi Hackbarth loaded the bases, Alli Tatnall hit a sacrifice fly to right to bring in another run and make it 3-1.

After a walk to Acuna, Kiara Kennedy hit a two-run single to make the lead 5-1. This ended the night for Lipscomb starter Mandy Jordan. Chloe Yeager replaced her in the circle.

Things got no better for the Bisons, however, as five more runs came across to balloon the Arizona State advantage to 10-1.

Loomis and Gortarez both had hits that scored two runs apiece. In total 12 batters came to the plate for the Sun Devils in the nine-run sixth inning.

In the bottom half of the inning, the Bisons were able to load the bases, but were unable to produce any runs as Arizona State advanced to Sunday's regional title tilt.

McCarty, Gortarez and Loomis led a 10-hit Sun Devil attack with two hits each, with Gortarez, Kennedy and Loomis driving in a pair of runs each.

Mejia pitched the whole way for the Sun Devils in picking up the win and improving to 16-9. She allowed no earned runs on five hits while walking four and striking out seven.

Jordan took the loss to fall to 18-9, and Vetula led Lipscomb with two hits.

Lipscomb 14 Alabama State 0

In the second game of Saturday's tripleheader in Tuscaloosa, the battle between the Bisons of Lipscomb and the Hornets of Alabama State was scoreless after one inning, but Lipscomb broke the deadlock in the bottom of the second on the way to what would become a convincing victory.

Jenna Pealor drove in the first run with a sacrifice fly and later Destinee Brewer walked with the bases loaded to put Lipscomb up 2-0. This ended the day in the circle for Hornets starter Vanessa Bradford, with Skyler Sullivan brought on to replace her.

Things got no better in the inning, however, for Alabama State as Lipscomb's Graysen Gladden brought in two runs with a single to center and then Peyton Ward doubled to deep left to drive in two more and put the Bisons up 6-0.

Pealor capped the big inning with a grand slam bomb over the leftfield wall to make the score 10-0. In total, Lipscomb sent 14 batters to the plate in that huge second inning.

Lipscomb (42-14-1) put a final exclamation on its big performance in the bottom of the fourth inning, scoring four more times on three fielder's choice plays and an error by the Hornets.

Pealor drove in five runs for the Bisons while Gladden drove in three and Ward and Brewer had two RBIs each. Khayla Green had three hits and scored a pair of runs.

Lipscomb starter Megan Gray allowed no runs and just one hit in her four innings of work in the circle, striking out four. Katie Turner came on to finish things off, allowing one Hornet hit.

Casey Durham and Hailey Walker had a hit each for Alabama State, which finished 24-25 on the season.

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