Patrick Murphy’s mother is over 70 years old and lives in Iowa.
So when the head coach of the University of Alabama softball team referenced her when dressing down his team during Friday’s game against Albany, he wanted a reaction.
Eight of the Crimson Tide’s first 12 outs had come on pop-ups or fly balls. For the most part, Alabama batters were swinging under everything.
“My mom could make the catch,” he said. “Let’s make it a tough out. If you’re going to make an out, make somebody dive, make them run for the ball, let them catch it against the wall.”
No. 14 Alabama changed its approach and broke the game open in the bottom of the fifth inning to take a 5-1 victory over the Great Danes at Rhoads Stadium.
UA (43-16) advanced to Saturday’s winners bracket contest against Minnesota (55-3), the No. 1-ranked team in the coaches poll, which defeated Louisiana Tech via the mercy rule.
Alabama held a slim 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the fifth. Center fielder Elissa Brown drew a leadoff walk and stole second base. Right fielder Chandler Dare hit a single to left-center, the kind of lower-trajectory hit that Mama Murphy could never have gotten to, to drive in Brown and double the lead.
The Crimson Tide wasn’t done. With one out, first baseman Bailey Hemphill launched a two-run home run over the fence in left field.
And over the grandstand behind it.
It was more in the direction of Texas or Oklahoma than Davenport, Iowa, where Mama Murphy lives. She never had a chance.
“It felt good off the bat,” said Hemphill, a freshman from Lafayette, La., of her ninth collegiate home run and her third in her last four games.
The power shot came after an adjustment suggested by assistant coach Alyson Habetz, who told hitters that the barrel of the bat was dropping – causing the pop-ups – so they needed to angle their front shoulders on a plane toward the ball.
“You think you’re making a dramatic adjustment, but you end up hitting it pretty solid so I think everyone kind of went with that,” Hemphill said.
Albany coach Chris Cannata has seen enough home runs in her time to take them in stride.
“They count the same whether they just eek over or they’re 50 feet over,” she said.
Albany (27-17) took a 1-0 lead in the second when Henige doubled and scored on Shane Swiatek’s RBI single.
Alabama answered with a solo shot from catcher Reagan Dykes in the bottom of the inning, and took a lead in the third on Marisa Runyon’s RBI single in the second.
Dykes also made two big defensive play, picking a runner off second and turning a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play by slinging the ball to Hemphill at first for another pick-off.
“Coach Murphy challenges the catchers to throw it, just to see what happens,” Dykes said. “Going into postseason, I thought why not give it a shot, these teams have never seen me. It worked out.”
UA went with sophomore left-handed pitcher Madi Moore to start the game, but Murphy lifted her in the third after she hit her third batter. Senior Sydney Littlejohn (16-8) pitched 4 2/3 innings of one-hit ball, striking out seven with no walks, for the win.
Junior second baseman Demi Turner made her full-time return after being injured when she was hit in the face by a ball on April 1. She entered in the sixth inning and got one plate appearance, drawing a walk.
Alabama gets Minnesota next.
“We gained some confidence watching them today,” Hemphill said. “Not that they played bad, we just saw it’s a team we can handle if we stick to our game plan and take care of business.”
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.