Alabama's pitching staff cooled off Louisiana's red-hot bats en route to a 2-1 series win over the Ragin' Cajuns. Sophomore ace Sydney Littlejohn earned both Tide's victories in the series. Haylie McCleney continued her hot streak at the plate to lead the Crimson Tide offensively.
Saturday (5-1 Alabama, 2-1 Louisiana-Lafayette.)
Owing to last week's inclement weather, Friday's series opener was cancelled and the teams squared off Saturday on a beautiful afternoon for softball. Alabama coach Patrick Murphy could not have asked for a better start to game one of what was dubbed "Danae Hays Day" -- part of the Crimson Tide's tradition of honoring senior players. The Alabama offense struck quickly as Chaunsey Bell drove in the first run of the game in the bottom of the first with an RBI groundout to the mound. Demi Turner added a run to the Tide lead by way of an error in the third. With McCleney at first, Turner poked a single into right field. McCleney went from first to third on the hit and scored on the errant throw by the Cajuns' right fielder.
In the bottom of the fourth Marissa Runyon hit a two-run home run to dead center to double the Alabama lead.
The four runs were more than enough room for Alabama's Littlejohn, as the ace carried a no-hit bid into the top of the sixth. The Ragin' Cajuns broke up Littlejohn's no-hitter and eventually scored a run to cut the score to 4-1. However, Littlejohn rallied to finish the inning strong and end the ULL threat. Hays knocked out a homer in the bottom of the sixth to stretch the Tide lead back to four. The Crimson Tide would not look back, and it went on to win the game 5-1.
The Tide served up All-American pitcher Christina Hamilton's first loss on the season. The loss was also the first team defeat for ULL.
Game two shaped up to be a pitcher's duel, as the Crimson Tide could only muster one run. Louisiana pitcher Jordan Wallace held the Tide's bats in check to improve to 6-0 on the season. In spite of their offensive struggles, Alabama struck first in the bottom of the third. Leona Lafaele showed off her wheels to leg out a leadoff triple. Chandler Dare drove Lafaele in with a sacrifice fly, and the Crimson Tide's scoring was over for the afternoon. The Ragin' Cajuns, themselves not faring much better at the plate, answered the Tide's run with a Samantha Walsh solo home run in the next half inning. Walsh drove in another run with an RBI single in the top of the fifth to put the Cajuns up.
The Crimson Tide were able to get two runners on in the final two innings, but could not find a way to plate the tying run. Wallace struggled late, but cracked down in those crucial situations to seal the 2-1 win. Alexis Osario pitched a great game, but a lack of run support gave her the loss for the Crimson Tide.
Sunday (3-2 Alabama)
Sunday's rubber match was a nail-biter that appeared destined to go to extra innings. Dare started the scoring in the bottom of the third, reaching base on a leadoff bunt single. Dare stole second and then took third on a wild pitch. Demi Turner hit a high fly ball to right to drive in Dare on the sacrifice fly.
Alabama starter Leslie Jury cruised for five innings, but when she ran out of gas, allowing back-to-back leadoff singles in the sixth, the Tide called on Littlejohn to finish the game. Littlejohn struck out her first batter, but a walk and an RBI groundout was all Louisiana needed to hand Littlejohn the blown save.
The Crimson Tide added a run in the bottom of the sixth by way of a Jadyn Spencer RBI fielder's choice. Littlejohn came back out to the mound looking to seal the victory in the top of the seventh. It appeared like Littlejohn would easily finish off the Ragin' Cajuns: she had Louisiana down to their final out when ULL's Shellie Landry hit a clutch solo home run to left field to tie the game. Littlejohn then gave up a single, but rallied to escape the inning with no further damage.
Lafaele gave the Tide a needed spark with a leadoff double in the bottom of the seventh. Speedster Andrea Hawkins came in Lafaele's place as a pinch runner. Dare advanced Hawkins to third with a sacrifice bunt. McCleney came to the plate with a runner only 90 feet away. McCleney had a great at-bat, working a full count and fouling off four straight pitches. On pitch number 10, McCleney smoked a line drive to right field. Louisiana right-fielder Aleah Craighton made a fantastic diving catch to rob McCleney of the hit, but the damage was done; Hawkins smartly held at third, tagging up to score the winning run on a sacrifice fly.
With the win, the Crimson Tide gained two wins against a high quality opponent. Alabama proved its pitching staff is among the best in the country, holding a prolific Louisiana-Lafayette offense to only five runs in three games. Equally important, the staff showed that while there may be a defined ace in Littlejohn, there is considerable depth at the top of the rotation. Pitching depth hindered the Tide last season, as all-world/all-everything Jaclyn Traina was on the mound every night of tournament play.
Alabama opens SEC play this weekend with a home series against the Ole Miss Rebels. The series starts Friday night at 6:30 p.m., with game two on Saturday at 2 p.m. and game three Sunday at 1:30 p.m.