Alabama earned its 40th win of the season Sunday, avoided its first ever losing record in conference play, and remembered at last! how to play with swagger. There was a different vibe with the Crimson Tide this entire weekend. Maybe it was having spark plug Demi Turner back in the dugout, maybe it was the record crowds at Rhoads Stadium, a three day total of 12,045 fans. But it was more than that. Longtime head coach Patrick Murphy shook off his seeming lethargy, showing passion in several spats with the umpires, making rare in-game pitching maneuvers, and may have found his number three hitter in freshman Gabby Calloway, just in time for the post-season.
Osorio heroics, again
What a weekend for the All American pitcher Alexis Osorio. The junior from Riverside, California, who has struck out almost exactly half (287) of the 568 batters she has faced in 27 games this season, threw a staggering 32 strikeouts over two games against a top ten team in Auburn. She set down 14 Tigers in Sunday’s game three of 2017’s final series, allowing just three hits—two of them homeruns off the bat of Tiger shortstop Haley Fagan.
As surreal as Lexi’s performance was, equally important Sunday were the four hits Alabama strung together in the bottom of the third. Down 1-0 thanks to Fagan’s solo shot in the top of the third, Bama freshman Claire Jenkins singled with one away, another freshman Elissa Brown followed up with a second single. After Bailey Hemphill flew out to right, the new three spot batter, and first year player, Gabby Calloway came to the plate and singled to deep left scoring Jenkins, Brown took third. Alertly Calloway moved to second on Auburn’s late throw to the plate. Then Marisa Runyon stood in and drilled an 0-1 pitch to left center, scoring Brown and Calloway. Alabama led 3-1. Fagan added a second solo shot in the 5th, but when she came to the plate in the seventh Murphy brought in senior Sydney Littlejohn to close out the game—and her career in Tuscaloosa with a 3-2 win.
Scoring drought over?
The last time the Tide had scored three runs in one inning in SEC play was way back on April 7th when Bama scored three in the first inning of game one of the LSU series. Before Sunday’s victory over Auburn, the Tide’s only “quality wins” this season were two over LSU and one over Louisiana-Lafayette in February. It’s also telling that freshmen got Sunday’s rally going.
Friday night’s three hour forty-four minute game played before an often raucous crowd of 4,015 fans is a prime example of what has gone right for the Tide—and what has gone wrong. For seven innings Osorio did epic battle with home plate umpire Robbie Guest and his erratic strike zone; Auburn was largely a bystander. Before Osorio was taken out in the top of the eighth of a scoreless game, she threw 184 pitches, recorded a mind-blowing 18 strike-outs, surrendered only 1 hit, no runs, but she also walked 11. Most of those walks came on pitches the raucous crowd, and Murphy, believed were strikes. Murph’s choice words to that effect eventually got him tossed. Predictably, Auburn cranked up the bats in the ninth (against reliever Sydney Littlejohn) and won 3-0. Eighteen strike-outs should be more than good enough to win, but Bama stranded eight and failed to score.
In Saturday’s game two, starter Littlejohn had one bad inning. In the top of the fifth she gave up four runs on four hits. Aside from that she and sophomore Madi Moore shut down the Tigers. Despite plenty of opportunities, Alabama stranded 9 and managed only one run.
The popular and dynamic second baseman Demi Turner made it on the field in games two and three as a pinch runner. Although the junior is still not at full strength, the team definitely has more energy with Turner in the dugout. And the enormous crowd’s standing ovation for her was quite emotional.
Post-season begins with the SEC Tournament. Tennessee is this year’s host. Here’s a link to the full bracket.
#5 seed, Alabama (12-11) plays #12 Arkansas (7-17) in the opening game of the 2017 tournament from University of Tennessee’s Sherri Parker Lee Stadium.
Attention fans: this is an early start, 11am CDT Wednesday May 10th on the SEC Network.
The format is single elimination, so loser goes home. Arkansas is the only team the Tide swept this season. Round two would pit Alabama against Texas A&M. Last season Alabama went into the SEC seeded #5 and made it to OKC and the World Series, so all is not lost. Hope reigns. RTR.