One of the most exciting innings in Alabama softball history came in top of the fifth of a scoreless game against Florida Thursday night in Gainesville. Desperate to shake things up and somehow someway manufacture a run, Tide coach Patrick Murphy went back to old-fashioned small ball and pressured the nation’s top pitcher, sophomore Kelly Barnhill, into an absolute meltdown.
Alabama did nothing through the first four innings. At one point, Barnhill struck out nine consecutive Tide batters. Then in the fifth, Bama went on the assault.
The wonderful, wacky fifth
The inning began with Tide freshman Bailey Hemphill—who drew a rare walk from Barnhill. Reagan Dykes laid down a bunt that rolled toward Barnhill, who tried to get the lead runner at second but pinch runner Mari Cranek beat the throw. Runners were on first and second with nobody out.
Rightfielder Chandler Dare came to the plate and bunted. The pitcher Barnhill fielded her second bunt and this time threw to first, but she overthrew Nicole DeWitt covering first by a mile. The ball went deep into right field along the fence and Aleshia Ocasio struggled to find it. Two runs scored and Alabama took an astonishing 2-0 lead over the Gators.
Sydney Booker came to the plate and again the Tide bunted. In what looked like an instant replay, Barnhill fielded the ball and again overthrew first, allowing Chandler Dare to run home. Alabama scored three on two errors. And still Barnhill had not recorded an out.
Although that was it for the scoring, the Tide batters continued to toy with the Gator pitcher. Peyton Grantham bunted and sacrificed Booker to third. Rachel Bobo came in to pinch hit for leftfielder Merris Schroder and drew a walk on the tenth pitch of a ferocious at bat, fouling off five pitches. Barnhill was obviously shaken and dripping with sweat. The top of the order came up Demi Turner popped up, Elissa Brown struck out on ball four, and finally the Tide was retired.
Barnhill left the game with two on and nobody out in the sixth. Aleshia Ocasion finished the game for the Gators. It was only Barnhill’s third loss of the season.
Tide plays flawless defense
Alexis Osorio wasn’t as flashy as Barnhill in the early innings, but she got the job done with the help of her teammates. In the second inning with Gators on first and second with one away, Bama catcher Dykes fired a shot to second, catching Ocasio too far off the bag. In the third, Florida led off the inning with an Amanda Lorenz line-drive to right. The next batter, DeWitt popped up to third, Grantham made the catch and doubled up Lorenz.
In the fifth after hitting two batters and walking a third, the Gators had the bases loaded. But on a 3-2 count, Osorio got out of trouble when Janell Wheaton hit a fly ball to left.
The Gators went quietly in the sixth, but there were some tense moments in their last at bat. With two away, Osorio walked Florida lead off batter Lorenz. But Nicole Dewitt popped up to second, and the Tide had pulled off the upset win.
Alexis Osorio (pitched another complete game, giving up three hits and striking out eight. (Uncharacteristically, Osorio hit four batters.) The Tide hasn’t committed an error in NCAA play and hasn’t surrendered a run since the second inning of its first regional game when Albany hit a home run off the Tide’s third pitcher, Madi Moore. The Tide has 27 shut out wins for the year, the most in school history.
Murphy told his players not to get discouraged against Barnhill who has an ERA of 0.35. And he gave them the chance to win with a game plan that felt every bit as gutsy and game changing as Saban’s call for the onside kick in the 2016 title game.
Game two is set for 6pm CT and can be viewed on ESPN. Lets ‘git ‘er done’ tonight, ladies! RTR.