Alexis Osorio notched an SEC season-high 13 strikeouts and the Alabama bats showed some life; then something happened en route to what was to be the Tide’s 40th win. Someone forgot to tell Ole Miss the game was over.
Down 4-3 in the bottom of the 7th with two outs and nobody on, Alexis Osorio walked the Rebels’ catcher Courtney Syrett. Kaylee Horton came in to pinch run for Syrett. Fleet-footed slapper Elanta Cox bounced a ball to Peyton Grantham at third. Grantham hurried the throw and bounced the ball past Bailey Hemphill into right field. Horton scored from first. Cox ended up on third. Then Kylan Becker hit a high-bouncing grounder to third that Grantham fielded cleanly and threw to first but not in time for the out and Cox scored the winning run. Ole Miss 5, Alabama 4.
It seemed this would be the Tide’s night; in many ways it was the ’old Alabama’ softball team that showed up Monday. The Tide played with the confidence they displayed in years past along with plenty of excellent pitching, some timely hitting, and a bit of gusto. In addition to Osorio’s 13 strike-outs, Alabama had 9 hits, and Bama gamely fought its way back from three down to a 4-3 lead in the top of the fifth after a stupid mistake in the third cost the team a run.
The Tide could have lost heart when down 3-0 on the road, but they battled back to tie the game. Or so they thought. Centerfielder Alyssa Brown singled. Then two batters later DP Marisa Runyon of ‘Home Run-yon’ fame hit her third homer of the season, a two run shot to right. Bama was within one, 3-2. The very next batter Bailey Hemphill then homered to left. Only she didn’t. Hemphill was called out because she did not touch the plate. The freshman jumped over it into her teammates’ waiting arms and she was called out.*
In the top of the fifth the team came together in a way it hasn’t done in SEC play. Right fielder Chandler Dare was hit by a pitch, Runyon got her third hit of the game (praise God she is back!), then Hemphill hit a deep pop fly over second that Ole Miss dropped. Bases were loaded with one away. Merris Schroder lined the ball hard but right at the Rebel third baseman. Two away. Then catcher Reagan Dykes hit a two run single into shallow left and Alabama went ahead 4-3. But for the second game in a row the Tide could not manage to hold the lead against a lesser conference opponent. Alabama falls to 39-13 and 11-9 in conference play. Ole Miss moves to 34-17 and 8-13.
Ole Miss scored its first three runs early, in the bottom of the second, when Osorio walked the bases loaded. The Rebels number eight batter Paige McKinney lined the ball into center scoring one run, then Syrett hit a deep ball that was inches away from being a grand slam and scored two more runs. Schroder misplayed the fly in the afternoon sun.
Alexis Osorio again leads the SEC in strikeouts with 254 to 242 from Florida’s Kelly Barnhill. The Osorio-Sydney Littlejohn pairing lead the SEC in team strike-outs with 308, to Florida’s dynamic duo of Barnhill-Delaney Gourley with 307. And finally the Tide hitters are making good contact with the ball. The 9 hits were all solid thwacks.
Freshman Bailey Hemphill’s gaffe on her homer, that left the side retired with Bama still down 3-2. And later in the game Chandler Dare cost the Tide an out when she stepped in front of home plate as she headed to first on a slap hit. The ball went foul but Dare was ruled out because she entered the plane of the plate. On defense Peyton Grantham’s poor throw to first that allowed the tying run to score, and then it seemed Hemphill hung on to the ball at first instead of trying to cut down Horton at the plate. Also given the high bounce of the final Rebel hit would it have made more sense, with two outs, to try and hold Cox on rather than going for the long throw to first. I’m not sure, but I wonder. Also some insurance runs would have helped after they took the lead, Alabama just kind of puttered around and never threatened again.
With the Tide easily qualified for the regional round of the NCAA play-offs and out of the running for the SEC regular conference title, this game doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things. Although the Tide cannot drop further in the RPI if the team is to host a regional series. Only teams 1-16 get that honor. Alabama has dropped series to Ole Miss, Washington, Tennessee, Missouri, and Louisiana Lafayette this season. Both Missouri and Ole Miss were ‘first time evers.’
Alabama has to pull itself together after two anguishing losses. Arch-rival Auburn comes to Tuscaloosa for a Friday, Saturday, Sunday series.
First pitch Friday is 7pm CDT on the SEC Network.
Game 2 is Saturday at 7pm CDT on ESPN 2.
Game 3 is Sunday at noon CDT on ESPN 2.
***Rulebook questions: Although the SEC Network announce crew was fairly insistent that the NCAA rulebook allows a player who doesn’t touch home plate to come back and touch it as long as she hasn’t entered the dug-out or isn’t tagged out, Tide coach Patrick Murphy said he was told by the umpires that as soon as the opposing team rightly points out the player did not touch home, the player is out. BTW, Hemphill was tagged out on her way back to home plate but the question then was, ‘did that count, given she was tagged with a ‘new’ ball’—not the one that was in play. (That one is somewhere in Oxford.)