Eight Is Great, Alabama Hangs On For WCWS Berth
TUSCALOOSA, Al.-- Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy has commented that it is a rare occurrence.
That being a less than dominating performance by one of his talent-laden starting pitchers, whether it be freshman Montana Fouts, or from juniors Sarah Cornell or Krystal Goodman.
Murphy also has noted, however, that on these non-frequent occasions, the Crimson Tide offense is usually there to "have our pitchers' backs."
That was the case Saturday in Game 3 of the NCAA Super Regional against Mike White's Texas Longhorns, as although Fouts scuffled mightily at times in her starting role, the Alabama bats more than compensated for any struggles she may have experienced during the contest in a toasty Rhoads Stadium.
Alabama scored eight runs on the day, including a big five-run third inning that included consecutive homers by KB Sides and Bailey Hemphill, to propel the Crimson Tide to an 8-5 win over the Longhorns.
Murphy's Crimson Tide (57-8) squad was just able to survive a resilient and scrappy Texas squad to win the series 2-1 and advance to its first Women's College World Series since 2016.
"First, congrats to Texas on a hell of a series," said the Crimson Tide coach. "I don't know if you guys know this, but in 2020 they're coming here for a tournament and then in 2021 we're going to Austin. When we make the schedules, it's like 18 months in advance so you never know who's coming (to Rhoads Stadium) for Regionals or Super Regionals. It's an awesome thing for college softball and I have to credit (White) for saying yes."
"I couldn't be more proud of this group. I said before the game, I'd rather have gritty than pretty any day, as a ballplayer, and just whatever you have to do, get it done. They've done that all year long."
"Obviously congratulations to Alabama for advancing to the College World Series," said White. "It was a good series and hard-fought series for sure. Obviously some really good hitting. I think it's a great case over those three games for instant replay and also (with the) strike zone and that's my opinion on that, but it is what it is. I take my hat off to my team They really worked hard and never gave in and we'll be better next year."
Both teams had prime opportunities to get on the scoreboard in the first inning but it was the Crimson Tide who produced the first run of the contest.
Maddie Morgan led off with a double and then advanced to third when Claire Jenkins reached via a Texas error. Two batters later, Sides hit an RBI single to put Alabama up 1-0.
In the top of the third, however, the Longhorns drew even.
The Crimson Tide batted around with its power game in the bottom half as freshman second baseman Skylar Wallace led off with a double to deep center. She advanced to third via a sacrifice fly by Merris Schroder and scored on a sacrifice fly by Morgan. The Tide now led 2-1.
Later pinch hitter Caroline Hardy walked and Sides cranked a three-run homer to make the Crimson Tide advantage 5-1. For good measure, Hemphill followed Sides' dinger with a solo homer of her own. After three innings complete, Alabama led big 6-1.
The big shot from Hemphill was her 25th of the season, tying Kelly Kretschman’s single-season school record for the Crimson Tide that has stood since 1998. Her 77 RBIs puts her three shy of Marisa Runyon’s record from 2015 and she has reached base in 37-straight games.
Texas was not about to go down without a fight, however, and the Longhorns trimmed the Crimson Tide lead to 7-5 in the top of the fifth with four runs of their own.
Fouts hit a batter in the inning, walked a batter and allowed an infield single, but the big blow was a grand slam by Rhodes over the center field wall.
Alabama added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth as Morgan had a two-out RBI single.
Just like most of the game, the Longhorns did not go down easily in the top of the seventh, with Alabama looking to seal the deal on its Super Regional triumph.
"(Returning to the WCWS in Oklahoma City) means the world," added Morgan. "We've worked so hard, and the seniors have led this team so well, and this team deserves everything in this world, and I am so proud, and speechless honestly."
Fouts improved to 19-5 with her gritty complete game performance in the circle, allowing five runs on seven hits while walking five and striking out four. She also hit a batter.
"She was throwing her butt off," said Morgan. "I am so proud of her for going through that adversity and coming out strong with that. Our defense had her back, and she is a great player and works hard. She deserves every bit of that."
Sides drove in four runs for the Crimson Tide while Morgan added three RBIs besides her standout performance defensively at third base.
Rhodes drove in four runs to lead the Longhorns, and O'Leary fell to 14-3 with the loss.
"They're very, very resilient," said Murphy about his team. "It's one of the best qualities a team can have."
Alabama will be making its 12th appearance in the Women's College World Series and will begin play in Oklahoma City on Thursday, May 30, most likely against the Oklahoma Sooners.
With a 23-year history as a program, Murphy's Crimson Tide program is one of three Division-I softball teams that has qualified for the championship series more often that it has not, along with Arizona and UCLA.