Shining moments send Alabama softball back to Oklahoma City


By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Sam Thornton

TUSCALOOSA-A glazed reflection of the Tuscaloosa heat beamed down on Rhoads Stadium on the eve of the Tuscaloosa softball super regional. The calmness in the air patiently waited the storm of competition that was looming on the horizon. The BIG 10 champion and No. 12 seed Northwestern Wildcats was the test at hand for the No. 5 seed Alabama Crimson Tide with a ticket to the Women’s College World Series on the line.

This year’s Alabama team was destined for something more than an impressive right to host a super regional. It was about redemption and finding themselves, together. With that magical feeling among seasoned head coach Patrick Murphy’s roster was an anxious sixth sense of a shining moment in the making by the Crimson Tide for them to get back to Oklahoma City.

For Murphy, this season was built on the strength of facing adversity early in the year. That message sustained when Alabama ace pitcher Montana Fouts’ return to the mound in game one was spoiled by defeat. Fouts had been dealing with a hyper extended knee injury that sidelined her throughout the prior regional stage. Cleared to play, the injury seemed to linger on Friday evening, where she gave up three runs in over three innings pitched before Jaala Torrence entered the contest for relief.

The opposition of Northwestern’s pitching by Danielle Williams was too much to generate a comeback, and the Crimson Tide fell into a 1-0 hole in a best of three series. The Wildcats got the timely hits, and a couple of errors by the Crimson Tide infield in the third and fourth innings was the difference. Murphy harped on the emphasis of entering their next game with a free state of mind to allow those opportune moments to come to them.

“We need to keep our poise. They’ve been playing this game since they were five years old, keep the poise. Don’t make it bigger than what it is, and just play ball like they’ve played ball since they were a kid,” Murphy said.

Game 2 on Saturday night displayed a near mirror image of game one. It was another defensive battle at hand, and although Alabama maintained a 1-0 edge through four and a half innings of play, it felt like they were destined for a heartbreaking ending when they couldn’t convert in the fifth inning with two runners on base.

Williams had entered the contest for Northwestern as the reliever, and two consecutive bunts from the Tide snuck by her as she had stepped on the mound. It was the breaking point, but Alabama couldn’t string together another run when the Wildcats bent.

After a run scored for Northwestern during their fifth inning at bat, the contest was square with Fouts now in the game. This time, it was the Montana Fouts we’ve been accustomed to watching over the last several seasons in Tuscaloosa. Giving up zero hits in two and a half innings pitched, the offense finally got their first shining moment of the series when Ashley Prange launched an RBI double that sent Larissa Preuitt in for a score in the seventh inning.

Alabama faithful in Rhoads Stadium rose from their seats in screaming approval; the loudest ovation the team had heard all series was present. The energy transpired into a strikeout punch from Fouts that gave Alabama a 1-1 series conversion, and it was onto a winner take all game on Sunday afternoon thanks to a top ranked moment in Prange’s collegiate career.

“I would say it’s definitely one of the top, if not the top (moments). Just to be in this atmosphere is a blessing,” Prange said.

A legacy moment like Prange’s increases the mentality of resilient nature that was already stored within the Crimson Tide players. There was certainly no better timing for it after struggling to get the bats hot in game one.

“We’re battle tested. We’ve been put through so much and we know that we’re gonna come out on top,” Preuitt said following game two.

Sunday resulted in that manifestation in an absolute thriller as Alabama edged out the Wildcats 3-2 to advance to Oklahoma City for the 14th time in the Murphy era.

Throughout the contest, it seemed as if another defensive battle was at hand with the score a stalemate at zero. That was until a lightning delay halted play for an hour shortly after two innings concluded.

The chatter among fans and media members alike was the question of which team would re enter the contest with an assertive edge. Out of the gate with Alabama on deck, the Tide loaded up the bases with zero outs. An opportunity wasn’t wasted this time around, as Ally Shipman sent a hit that allowed two Crimson Tide runners to cross home plate safely.

Northwestern countered the next inning with a run scored in the fourth, and suddenly we were back to a familiar scenario as the previous games played at Rhoads.

That was until the next inning when another shining moment for Alabama would prevail. At the top of the fifth, Jenna Johnson launched a solo home run to left field to cushion the Crimson Tide lead to two. Eardrums soon rattled after the eyes of spectators tracked the ball to confirm it sailed fair across the left foul post.

“There was nobody more deserving of a situation like that, and when the ball came off her bat I knew it was going out,” Fouts said.

One shining moment led to a full circle one, as Fouts closed out the game with a legendary performance throwing a 1.48 ERA through over three innings pitched. A late Northwestern solo shot was added before the final batter Fouts dueled was struck out. The expression of joy, triumph and grit all blended together on the face of Fouts as her teammates embraced her with open arms.

The roommate duo of Fouts and Johnson sent them packing to Oklahoma City for the third time in their collegiate careers on Sunday. The victory was Fouts’ 100th career win wearing the crimson and white, the fourth pitcher in Alabama history to reach the milestone.

Without the highs and lows of a roller coaster season and a hard fought super regional series, Alabama wouldn’t be able to head into the final stage with indisputable greatness on their minds.

“We went through a lot of adversity but that’s what makes us special, that’s what makes us great,” Fouts said.

Alabama begins their quest for a second national championship on Thursday at 11 a.m. against SEC rival and reigning conference champion Tennessee. The Crimson Tide will look to erase their regular season trend where they went 1-3 against the Volunteers.

Categories: Alabama, College Sports, Featured, Local News