Texas Rallies Behind Injured Elish To Force Game 3
TUSCALOOSA, Al.-- At the very least, it would have been fairly accurate to say that Mike White's Texas softball team was facing a dire straits type of situation.
Having already spotted Alabama a 1-0 series lead in the NCAA Super Regionals at Rhoads Stadium in Tuscaloosa, the Longhorns found themselves down 3-0 in Game 2 Friday night and also without its workhorse of a starting pitcher in Miranda Elish.
She suffered a horrific face injury when she was hit in the face by a throw from catcher Mary Iakopo on a dead ball situation. The ball hit Elish between the nose and cheek and rendered her unable to pitch the rest of the game or the series as she was taken by ambulance to a hospital for precautionary measures.
Then Alabama scored yet another run to go up 4-0 in the top of the second, and it appeared it simply was not meant to be for the visiting Longhorns from Austin.
But in the aftermath of Elish's injury, something happened for the Longhorns, and as they began to fight for their fallen teammate, the momentum of the game totally shifted.
That momentum change, led by Iakopo and MK Tedder among others, propelled Texas to a 7-5 comeback win that tied the series at a game apiece, and forced a deciding Game 3 on Saturday afternoon.
"Obviously our backs were to the wall today and we had to come out fighting and being down 4-0 it didn't look too good against very good pitching from Alabama," said White. "Obviously our thoughts and prayers are with Miranda Elish, who took that shot to the face. She's going to be OK, and obviously they'll have to run some more tests and see what happens from there, but she was in good spirits. She sent us a message straight away about the game. Obviously nobody feels worse about it than Iakopo but those things happen and it was a total accident. She came in (later) and did it for her teammate and hit a home run for us that really got us going. That's the best way to redeem yourself right there."
Alabama (56-8) scored the first runs of the game in the top of the first inning against Elish, who started for the second straight night against the Crimson Tide.
With one out, sophomore rightfielder KB Sides singled to center and this was followed by consecutive walks to Kaylee Tow and Bailey Hemphill. Senior catcher Reagan Dykes then was retired on a fielder's choice, with a run scoring and the Crimson Tide led 1-0.
Freshman second baseman Skylar Wallace then singled to center, scoring two more runs and making the Crimson Tide advantage 3-0.
In the top of the second, things took that even more unfortunate turn for the Longhorns.
With one out, Elish suffered her injury and was forced to exit the contest after being on the field for several minutes, finally being helped off the field. Freshman Shealyn O'Leary was brought in to replace her.
Later in the inning, Sides reached on a two-base error, with another run coming across for Alabama, which now led 4-0.
In the bottom of the third, Texas (46-16) was able to get runners to first and third with only one out after singles by Janae Jefferson and Reagan Hathaway. Alabama coach Patrick Murphy then brought in freshman standout Montana Fouts to replace starter Krystal Goodman in the circle.
Fouts, however, was greeted rudely by Iakopo, who stepped in and cracked a three-run bomb over the left field wall, her 11th of the season, to cut the once-large Crimson Tide lead to 4-3.
"(The homer) was a game changer and it flipped a switch and we were in the ball game," said Iakopo. "It was something high and something in the strike zone. It was pretty normal but I was thinking about (Elish) the whole time. I had two strikes on me and I was just trying to stay alive."
In the bottom of the fourth, Tedder, the sophomore rightfielder and Alabama-native, took a Fouts pitch and deposited it over the leftfield wall, and now the game was tied 4-4. Now the fans in burnt orange and white began making big noise. After two more singles by Ki'Audra Hayter and Lauren Burke, Murphy apparently saw enough from Fouts on this night as Goodman was brought back on to replace her.
Texas, however, was not finished as the Longhorns scored three more runs, two of those coming across when Iakopo reached on an Alabama error. The other came across when Shannon Rhodes was narrowly retired on a fielder's choice play. Texas was now up 7-4.
O'Leary quickly retired the first two Crimson Tide batters in the top of the fifth, but Bailey Hemphill cranked a homer over the center field wall to cut the Texas lead to 7-5.
Alabama got no closer, however, as Texas deadlocked the series in inspirational fashion.
"We know Alabama is a class act, and they're going to come back strong tomorrow," said White. "We've got a tough game ahead of us, and we have to be ready for that tomorrow."
"It was long game and a weird game too," said Murphy, who noted that his team's thoughts and prayers obviously go out to Elish. "Credit Texas for coming back and for overcoming a weird, freak thing (with the injury by the Longhorn pitcher). They hit the ball and we had four (hits) and they had nine. That was the biggest difference in the game and obviously the two home runs were huge for them."
O'Leary picked up the win to improve to 14-2 while Fouts dropped to 18-5 with the loss.