For the second straight day the Alabama Crimson Tide needed only one run to defeat the top ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers (56-5) and send them packing from the regionals. The Tide pitchers, Alexis Osorio and Sydney Littlejohn, reminded the country that Alabama has always been built around defense. The two threw 16 innings of shut out softball against the third best hitting team in the country.
And now, Alabama softball fans can exhale, for a few days anyway. And how fitting that Sunday’s win can be credited largely to crimson clad seniors playing their final game at Rhoads Stadium.
Senior Sydney Littlejohn got the start Sunday and pitched one of her sharpest games in an Alabama uniform. The Rusk, Texas native threw five and a third scoreless innings. The tall right-hander surrendered only five hits, struck out four, and walked one, working her crisp curve ball to perfection, keeping the Minnesota batters off balance by throwing strikes.
For the second straight day Gophers head coach Jessica Allister threw her all-everything pitcher Sara Groenewegen at the Tide. And this time, from the start, Alabama’s batters seemed to see the ball better.
Alabama scores first—a recipe for success
As the designated visiting team, Alabama batted first and scored quickly. With one out in the first, senior right-fielder Chandler Dare got the game’s first hit, a blooper that fell in over first base. The next batter, another senior, Marisa Runyon lined a double to left field that scored Dare from first. Tide coach Patrick Murphy waved Dare around and the speedster made it to the plate ahead of the throw. It was one-zip Alabama.
What followed is scarily familiar. Nothing. The Tide didn’t even have another runner touch third base all night. Once again, as has happened so many times this season, it would be up to the pitching staff to hold the line for the Tide: this time against batters on the nation’s winningest team. Littlejohn, and later Osorio, had to stare down a line-up built on power, knowing one bad pitch could cost their team the win. For Minnesota, facing elimination, everything was on the line.
The first scare
The first Maalox moment came in the bottom of the fourth. With one out, Danielle Parlich hit a liner to Rachel Bobo in left. Then a hard hit grounder from freshman phenom Kendyl Lindaman made it past short stop Sydney Booker. Maddie Houlihan hit a grounder right at Demi Turner on second. Turner made the out at second, but Minnesota had runners on the corners with two away. Littlejohn got out of the inning when Makenna Partain grounded to Peyton Grantham on first.
The bottom of the sixth
The next threat came in the bottom of the sixth. Parlich got her second single, another liner to left, again with one away. Then catcher Lindaman, she of 20 homers in her first season, drew a walk and the tension rose. Littlejohn threw ball four and Patrick Murphy went to the bullpen for Alexis Osorio. Despite throwing 180 pitches Saturday, the ace did her job. Houlihan hit a ball to Turner who had time only to dive for second just ahead of the runner. Again Gophers were on first and third. Osorio forced another grounder, this time from Partain. Short stop Sydney Booker fielded the ball and raced it to second. Again Minnesota came up empty.
And we go to the bottom of the seventh
With Bama still clinging to the tiniest of margins, the desperate Gophers came to the plate for their last chance to continue the best season in school history. The first batter Sydney Dwyer, second nationally in RBI, was corralled into a pop up by Osorio. Pitcher Sara Groenewegen stepped in. (The Crimson Tide softball radio crew noted Groenewegen now understands the frustration felt this season by the Alabama’s pitchers. She had two amazing outings on the mound, but absolutely zero run support.) Groenewegen went down on strikes, and it was up to Dani Wagner. On an 0-2 count Wagner tried to hold off on her swing but the umpire at first ruled she’d gone around, and Alabama took two games not many believed they could.
What would the super regionals be without Alabama?
The Tide is the only team that has been to every super regional since the format began in 2005. After defeating the nation’s #1 team in Minnesota Alabama’s reward is, not a trip to Disney World, but to Gainesville to play a team they haven’t played this season, the top seeded Florida Gators. Fear not. It’s not out of the realm of possibility Alabama can compete with the Gators. Power-hitter Marisa Runyon is hitting her stride, finally. Chandler Dare bats better in the post season than any time in the year. And Alabama’s pitchers are every bit as good as Florida’s. And best of all, the Tide has Demi Turner back. Since she returned to the line-up Alabama is undefeated. Turner is hitting and fielding like the All-Star she is. #HFTB #RTR