Finally a one run game goes the Tide’s way as Alabama beat/upset the Minnesota Golden Gophers to put themselves one win away from their 13th super regional appearance.
With Alexis Osorio visibly tiring after throwing perhaps the game of her life, 180 pitches on a hot, muggy afternoon, holding the nation’s 3rd best batting team to just two hits over nine innings, there was no question Alabama had to close it out in the bottom of the ninth.
Spirited team leader, Demi Turner, led off the Bama ninth with her second hit of the day, an infield single to second. Elissa Brown bunted, but the Gophers made the throw to second getting the lead runner, thwarting the sacrifice. Chandler Dare, a player that always comes through in post season play, came through Saturday with a sharp hit single to center. Bama had runners at first and second with one away. Marisa Runyon stepped in and was hit by a pitch—very uncharacteristic for Minnesota’s strike pitcher Sarah Groenewegen. With one out Bama had bases loaded. Bailey Hemphill came to the plate for the biggest at-bat of her young career and popped up along the third base line. Two away, bases still loaded.
Suddenly it seemed the 2017 season was riding on the bat of tenacious sophomore Reagan Dykes. In a plate appearance that will be dissected endlessly by Gopher players, fans, ESPN, and Alabama haters, with the count 3-1, umpire Brad Newton called a pitch—that could have gone either way—ball four to give Alabama a true walk-off win 1-0 win over the coaches’ poll’s #1 team.
The ending was controversial, Groenewegen, a pitcher who had only given up 29 walks all season—in the most important inning of her career— hit one Alabama batter and walked another giving the Tide the win and ending the Gophers’ 26 game win streak. Groenewegen was so on target she did not even have a three ball count against her until the 8th inning.
Cue the Detractors
After the 54-3 Golden Gophers were snubbed by the selection committee and forced to travel to a regional to play an Alabama team that limped to the finish line, the cry will be “Minnesota screwed again.” Truthfully, the pitch was extremely close—perhaps a strike, but had Groenewegen not hit Runyon, the bases wouldn’t have been loaded. Maybe she got rattled, the last time the Gophers’ played a one run game was back in April 15th. And they hadn’t competed against a ranked team since March, Alabama played seven ranked teams during that stretch.
For eight innings it was a classic pitchers’ duel between Alabama’s Alexis Osorio and Minnesota’s senior ace Sarah Groenewegen—who happens to be, according the ESPN’s softball writer Graham Hays, the only active pitcher with more career strike outs than junior Alexis Osorio. But he points out Osorio has accumulated her strikeouts in only three years. Osorio finished the day with 11 more, Groenewegen with 10.
Groenewegen’s no hitter was broken up in the bottom of the third on a two out single by Demi Turner (her first hit since April 1st), a sharply hit ball to short left. She promptly stole second on the next pitch, but the plucky junior was stranded when lead-off batter Elissa Brown popped up.
Osorio throws seven hitless innings
Alexis Osorio showed grit in pitching a no hitter through seven innings, before giving up a single to Danni Wagner in the top of the eighth—a hard grounder right past the pitchers’ mound. Osorio walked Allie Arneson, putting runners at first and second with nobody out. Left-fielder Sam Macken popped up to Peyton Grantham at third. It was a tense moment with three Bama players nearly colliding under the ball. One away. Danielle Parlich grounded out but advanced the runners. Then with two outs in the bottom of the eighth the Gophers’ top hitter Kendyl Lindaman came to the plate and the Tide made the crucial decision to put her on, loading the bases.
The tension escalated to a fever pitch, but Osorio got the Gophers’ clean up batter Maddie Houlihan to ground out to first. The only real threat of the game was averted.
Finally Alabama gets a break
After a hard luck season marked by excellent pitching amid a dearth of timely hits, it was almost too much to hope things would go Bama’s way, but after a memorable performance by Osorio, extremely tough defense, and just enough offense, Alabama caught a break and got the walk off win.
Now the Tide waits. Alabama sits alone in the winners’ bracket, where the ladies will presumably face Minnesota again, needing only one win to move on to the super-regionals. First pitch is set for Sunday at 4pm CT. What a game! RTR