Hard to believe Alabama has lost three of four games to the middle of the pack Ole Miss, (38-19) but sadly it is so.
How It Happened
Everything broke the Rebels’ way early Saturday and Alabama (42-16) was bounced from the SEC Tournament in the semi-final round 4-1. ‘Bounced’ is the best way to describe how Ole Miss won, by keying in on Tide pitcher Sydney Littlejohn in the second, and laying down infield hits that bounced so high on the hard dirt at Tennessee’s Sherri Parker Lee Stadium that the Tide defenders could only field the balls and watch the speedy slap and run batters take first while the base-runners advanced. The Rebels played fearless and free, even executing a double steal taking second and home, helped along when 2nd baseman Claire Jenkins bobbled a tag out. Over and over it seemed Alabama threw the ball a second too late to make a play. In addition to the errors, Jenkins, playing in place of injured Demi Turner had one of her worst outings. Maybe it was nerves on the big play-off stage, maybe she wasn’t fully awake for the early 11am ET start. In all honestly the entire team seemed sluggish, not looking sharp until after Ole Miss took a 3-0 lead in the second. And by then it was too late. Pinch hitter Dakota Matiko added a solo home run in the fifth that pushed the score to 4-0.
The Big Break
Ole Miss, the tournament Cinderella team, won a huge victory Friday without having to play an inning. The rainy weather allowed the Rebels’ fiery pitcher Kaitlin Lee a much needed day of rest after pitching two games in two days at the SEC Tournament—including a 2-0 shut out win over the Florida Gators, the nation’s top team.
Tide Offense Stalls (again)
Alabama had some hard hit balls, but as has happened so often this season, they went right to defenders. As a result the Tide could do nothing against the junior transfer Lee, until the bottom of the sixth, when Chandler Dare opened with single, Marisa Runyon followed up with another single, then Bailey Hemphill, who had looked befuddled by Lee all day, hit a hard single that scored Dare. It was 4-1 with runners on first and second with nobody out. The tying run came to the plate, but Merris Schroeder flied out in foul territory. Reagan Dykes the fifth batter in the inning grounded out. Two away. It was up to Sydney Booker with runners still on first and second. The shortstop popped up and that was that. Alabama could not do anything in the seventh. On the day the Tide was only 2 of 15 with runners in scoring position.
Lee, whose celebratory antics I find extremely tiresome, beat the Tide by getting ahead of every batter and simply throwing strikes. She had zero walks for the game despite having thrown by game’s end more than 350 pitches at the tournament.
Madi Moore Coming Along
On the plus side: Sophomore lefty Madi Moore came in on relief with two out in the sixth inning and pitched solidly, getting four ground outs. And much needed power hitter Marisa Runyon is looking consistently comfortable at the plate for the first time this season.
NCAA Regionals Next
Most analysts believe Alabama will finish in the top 16 teams and will thus host a regional next weekend, but caution that, because the Tide will be one of the lower ranked hosts, they could face a decent second seed. The NCAA softball regionals will be revealed Sunday at 9pm CT on ESPN 2.