The Alabama softball team came into the super regional series at Washington riding the high of a three game winning streak and eight victories in the past nine games, but were still facing long odds against a squad that spent time ranked #1 in the nation this season and handed the Tide two of its ugliest losses back in March. The Huskies were countering Tide ace Alexis Osorio with Gabbie Plain, a freshman from Australia who boasts a 1.06 ERA and already has a perfect game to her credit. The Huskies have also been dominant on offense, averaging more than six runs per game on the season.
Still, it was Alabama that held the lead for more than half of the game and looked poised to put all of the pressure in the home dugout with a huge game one upset. Alas, it was not to be.
Alabama seized the lead in the second inning after Tide cleanup hitter Bailey Hemphill worked a tough walk on seven pitches to open the frame. When Reagan Dykes was subsequently hit by a pitch, it was fair to wonder if the stage might be a little big for Washington’s young phenom. To her credit, she rallied to get two outs with the aid of a sacrifice bunt (full disclosure: I hate sac bunts) before junior Merris Schroder pulled one just inside the third base bag for a two-run double.
From that point on Plain was dominant, allowing only five baserunners over her final seven innings. Osorio battled fiercely against the vastly superior lineup, throwing a whopping 170 pitches and escaping trouble on a couple of occasions. Truthfully, it was only the top two hitters in the Washington order, 3B Taylor Van Zee and SS Sis Bates, that gave Osorio much trouble. Those two combined to reach base six times on nine plate appearances while the rest of Washington’s team reached base only seven times, including two by error. Hemphill made one of the errors at first base, but made up for it by saving at least one run with a diving two-out snag of a third inning line drive that was ticketed for the right field corner.
Staked to that 2-0 lead, Osorio committed two cardinal sins in one opposing at-bat to open the bottom of the seventh: she walked the first batter of the inning who also happens to be eight-hole hitter Taryn Atlee, one of the weakest in the Husky lineup, on four pitches that were nowhere near the strike zone. Van Zee and Bates subsequently rallied to push two runs across. It was the only time that Atlee managed to reach base in the game, and had Osorio been able to get the ball over the plate to her, the Tide likely would have escaped with a win in regulation. As it were, Osorio and the defense gutted it out to preserve the tie and send it to extra innings.
Unfortunately, the Tide would be undone by another self-inflicted wound in the form of a ninth-inning error by 3B Claire Jenkins to put the leadoff hitter aboard, this time nine-hole hitter Kelly Burdick. Burdick then stole second and was predictably driven home by Van Zee to seal the walk-off win. When you have hitters of that caliber at the top of the order, you simply can’t gift free bases to those at the bottom. Alabama did just that and it cost them the victory.
Needless to say, this one was a heartbreaker for an Alabama squad that fought valiantly against a heavily favored opponent. They now have to regroup and try to force a game three against even longer odds. Courtney Geddins has rounded into a strong #2 pitcher for Coach Patrick Murphy, but Washington will counter with junior Taryn Alvelo, another ace caliber hurler who put up a 1.16 ERA to earn first team All-Conference honors. First pitch will come at 6pm CT, televised on ESPN2.
Hope for the best and Roll Tide.
UPDATE: The season ends for the Tide after a 6-0 loss to 5-seed Washington in Game 2 in Seattle. It was not the strongest of seasons for Alabama but neither was it a failure. They finish 36-20 and should end up in or near the Top 10 by the end of the season.
Osorio is a senior but there is some great promise in rising senior Courtney Gettins and rising soph Madison Preston.