At a glance
Alabama shook off a slow start and took care of business, beating the Albany Great Danes 5-1 and setting the stage for a dynamic duel between the No. 1 team in the country (coaches’ poll) and its No. 16 seed, an Alabama team many believe does not even deserve to host a regional.
Sydney Littlejohn was on her game in the circle, pitching 4 & 2/3 scoreless innings in relief. The Tide had six hits on the day, two of those homeruns: a second inning solo shot from Reagan Dykes, and then a two-run homer from Bailey Hemphill in the fifth.
But, easily, the most emotional moment of the afternoon came when, in the sixth inning, Tide star Demi Turner returned to second base for the first time since April 1st when she was seriously injured in a freak accident. As an added bonus, she came to the plate but was walked.
Despite the relatively easy win, Alabama struggled offensively. Minnesota must be licking its lips lying in wait for Alabama, after run-ruling the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 11-2 in the opening round. The Gophers have the nation’s second-ranked ERA and its number one-ranked offense.
The Tide got off to an odd start, with a Patrick Murphy ‘hunch’—hey, let’s start our third-string pitcher in the regional.
True, he would have looked like a genius had starting Madi Moore panned out, but the gambit failed. The sophomore lefty struck out three but she hit three batters—two in the head, and gave up two hits and a run over two and a third innings.
Albany put a run on the board in the bottom of the second on two hits. DH Chelsea Henige doubled to the wall in center right, then 2nd baseman Shaye Swiatek singled, although shortstop Sydney Booker fired home with the ball for what would have been a bang-bang play, but normally sure-handed catcher Reagan Dykes couldn’t handle the throw, and Henige scored.
Catcher Reagan Dykes evened it up in the bottom of the second, sending the first pitch she saw far over the left field fence.
In the bottom of the third Bama scored again. First base and lead-off batter Elissa Brown walked, right-fielder Chandler Dare sacrificed Brown to second. Then DP Marisa Runyon lined past the second baseman scoring Brown. Bama led 2-1.
In the bottom of the fifth, ‘Bama padded its lead: Brown was walked for the third time and stole second for the third time, Dare doubled her home, then two batters later freshman Bailey Hemphill sent a towering two run shot to left. 5-1 Tide. (Chandler Dare thrives in regional play, hitting nearly .500 for her career.)
The huge matchup
Now, in what will be the most anticipated game of the day, Minnesota takes on the Tide at 11:30 am CT. Note the time change; the game was moved because of weather. Severe thunderstorms are expected to roll through the region later this afternoon.
To say that Alabama softball has the toughest road to Oklahoma City of any of the 64 tournament teams is not hyperbole. It’s true.
It could be argued 42-16 Alabama softball didn’t deserve the No. 16 seed they were given by the college softball selection committee (and, trust me, Minnesota has argued it.)
But, the Tide now finds itself with the rariefied opportunity to beat not one No. 1 team, but two No. 1 teams — and that’s before they even get to Oklahoma City and face the eight-team World Series. Why? Well, the winner of this regional travels to Gainesville to face the top-seed Florida Gators, who almost certainly are going to win their umpeenth regional in a row.
The gauntlet for Alabama begins in less than 24 hours. It will feature a great between Alabama’s strikeout ace, Alexis Osorio, and a pitcher with the second-best ERA in the country, Sarah Groenewegen.
Hope the weather holds! RTR
11:30 a.m. CT / ESPNU and WatchESPN streaming