Alabama came into Super Regional action heavily favored over Kentucky, but the Wildcats jumped on the Tide early. Fortunately the Tide’s veteran leadership prevailed and Alabama survived with a hard fought 4-3 victory.
Kentucky opened the scoring in the third inning with a clutch two out single for a 1-0 lead, then added on with a solo homer by Renee Abernathy in the fourth. Meanwhile, Kentucky pitcher Autumn Humes had run through the Tide order with aplomb, retiring all nine she had faced.
That all changed in the bottom of the fourth.
Bailey Hemphill stepped up once again, lining a rocket into left field that would end up starting a rally. Two singles later, KB Sides launched a three run triple to give the Tide a lead that they would not relinquish. Maddie Morgan added a clutch RBI hit, and the Tide went into the fifth inning up 4-2.
Fouts was outstanding until the seventh inning, but things got a little precarious there. After Abernathy hit her second solo shot of the game, two Kentucky hits had runners on second and third. To be frank, the game should have been over at this point as DP Rylea Smith clearly failed to check her swing on what would have been strike three, but the Tide didn’t get the call and the game continued.
Coach Patrick Murphy decided to intentionally walk leadoff hitter Kayla Kowalik, who has easily been Kentucky’s best overall hitter on the season. This was Fouts’ only free pass of the afternoon and set up a bases loaded, two out battle with RF Tatum Spangler.
For the first time in the game, Fouts had a hard time finding the strike zone and ended up in that dream backyard scenario: bases loaded in a one-run game, two outs, and a full count on the hitter. Fortunately for the Tide, Spangler watched a borderline pitch in the top right corner of the zone, the umpire called strike three and the game was over.
The announcers pointed out that Kentucky seemingly moved up in the box against Fouts, more concerned about the late movement on her pitches than the velocity. Perhaps this was the reason, but they gave her more trouble than anyone has recently. Abernathy clearly had her timed up as both of her homers were smoked. There will likely be some adjustments made.
Still, Alabama has control of the best-of-three series headed into game two tomorrow and are one game closer to Oklahoma City. Few teams win a title without being tested, and this was a tough one.