Tide bats let down Alabama pitching, again.
The #14 Crimson Tide managed a split in Saturday’s unplanned double header against the 21st ranked Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford, losing in walk-off fashion in game two, despite another sterling pitching performance from senior Sydney Littlejohn. Alabama scored one in the first inning and, thanks largely to Littlejohn, nursed that slimmest of leads for seven innings before surrendering two runs, and the game, in the Rebels’ final at bat.
Even typing this recap makes me heartsick, because Alabama pitching deserves so much better than they are getting. Now, the team is in the desperate position of needing a win in Monday night’s finale (Sunday’s game moved to Saturday due to weather) to avoid dropping its third straight series. Alabama’s batting average has dropped from fifth (.293) in the league a couple of weeks ago to now seventh, even as the pitching hangs tough with the SEC’s third best ERA. (1.54)
The Tide scored first, getting the game underway with a lead off walk from Alyssa Brown off Ole Miss pitcher Brittany Finney. Brown promptly stole second. Things were looking good. Especially after Chandler Dare grounded out but advanced Brown to third. Marissa Runyon singled through the left side and scored Brown. (If you are here to read about offense, stop now.) Alabama never even threatened again. In fact at one point Finney (5-0), yet another unproven SEC pitcher the Tide made look great, retired 11 Tide batters in a row. This game was drearily familiar to fans who have followed Bama softball this season. Despite the auspicious start, Alabama had only three hits for the entire game.
We need to call the police and report a crime. In Littlejohn’s last three outings combined she has gotten exactly one run in support from her offense. She lost in Tuscaloosa last weekend 2-0 to the Washington Huskies. The weekend before that she lost 3-0 in Knoxville to the Vols. Today’s score 2-1.
I apologize readers and fellow fans, I can’t even describe the bottom of the seventh. Let’s just say there were a couple of bobbled balls that might have been outs but weren’t and there were a couple of timely hits. That’s all it took to seal the walk-off loss.
Consider where the Tide could be if the team could hit. Sydney Littlejohn and Alexis Osorio have combined for more than 400 strike-outs. Alabama as a team is second only to Florida nationally! And yet...one team is winning. Florida is 46-3, Alabama 39-12.
Mercifully, Alabama’s bats showed a hint of life in game 1, barely a pulse. But it was enough for Tide ace Alexis Osorio it couldn’t have come at a better time. Osorio has been pitching lights out yet, like Littlejohn, had lost her last two outings to Washington and to Tennessee, both by the score of 3-2.
The normally stoic Osorio (19-6) allowed herself a small smile after game 1. And no wonder, she finally got some run support. Not much, just two runs on seven Tide hits. But that was one more run than was needed—thanks largely to Lexi, who surrendered only one hit over seven innings to go along with nine strike outs.
This game wasn’t without drama. After two scoreless innings, things got dicey for the Tide in the bottom of the third. Osorio walked Courtney Syrett, Elantra Cox executed a perfect bunt, and then Alabama second baseman Claire Jenkins mishandled a routine grounder from Kylan Becker, loading the bases with nobody out. As is her style, Osorio cranked it up a notch. She struck out Miranda Strother and Sarah Van Shaik in order and got Alyssa Gonzalez to pop up. Just like that disaster was averted.
Alabama, who had scattered hits over the first five innings without threatening, finally managed to put something together in the sixth. Pinch hitting in the nine spot Rachel Bobo, who has only had several at bats all season, opened with a lead-off single. The top of the order in Alyssa Brown came up, and after fouling off two bunt attempts, Brown dropped in a hit over the short stop. Bama had two on and no outs. Chandler Dare grounded out to second, but advanced the runners. Marisa Runyon hit a ground ball to second that Kaylee Horton threw to the plate but not in time to get the fleet Bobo. Runyon alertly ran to second. Bama took the lead 1-0. Bailey Hemphill then hit a pop fly that came down behind 2nd base and between several Rebels, scoring Brown. The Tide led 2-0.
Ole Miss shortstop Paige McKinney complained Runyon interfered with her ability to make the catch and for a good five minutes Rebel head coach Mike Smith yelled at one umpire after another. He didn’t manage to get tossed and he didn’t get the second run taken off the board. What a colossal waste of time—and so unseemly. (For the record, maybe Runyon’s foot hit McKinney’s. But the consensus was there was no way she would have made the catch on a pop up to ‘no man’s land.’
Alexis Osorio shut down the Rebels in the sixth and struck out two of the three batters in the seventh to preserve her 19th win.
Worse syntax of the day came from a tv announcer who said, “Alabama is one out away from not taking advantage of a lead-off double.” Huh? (But awkward verbiage or not, the Tide failed to take advantage. Sigh.)
What’s at stake:
Alabama (11-8) still sits in fifth place in the conference just ahead of LSU (11-10). Things are not looking bright for a first round bye in the SEC Championship. Only the top four teams get that extra day of rest. And at #14 nationally, Alabama is barely in the running to host a regional. Only the top 16 teams host regionals. On the plus side many teams are merely hoping to get to the post-season. It’s just hard to accept that Alabama isn’t playing elite softball.
Game 3 against Ole Miss is set for Monday at 6pm CST and can be seen on the SEC Network.
Next weekend Alabama closes out the regular season when Auburn (41-8 overall and 13-6 in league play) comes to T-town for a three game series. It’d be good to take down the Tigers, but let’s get the series win from Ole Miss Monday! RTR.