KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – It was the kind of game the University of Alabama softball team has lost all too often: a low-scoring affair with some late adversity.
Only this time the Crimson Tide didn’t falter. Instead, it focused. Alexis Osorio didn’t blink: she bucked down.
No. 16 Alabama upended 11th-ranked Texas A&M, winning 2-1 in 10 innings Thursday at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium to advance to the semifinal round of the SEC Tournament.
Alabama (42-15) prevailed on the strength of a commanding performance from junior ace pitcher Osorio, who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. She gave up a game-tying home run to start off the seventh, but kept attacking the strike zone until UA got a home run of its own – the second in as many days from freshman first baseman Bailey Hemphill – that stood up as the game-winner.
Osorio (21-7) struck out 15 batters while yielding two hits and four walks.
“It starts with her,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said of the pitcher.
Murphy related that UA head football coach Nick Saban had spoken to the team recently. The softball coach said he had never asked Saban before to address one of his teams, but with UA struggling, Murphy made that call.
Osorio took Saban’s message to heart.
“Coach Saban came and talked to us and said, ‘Are you going to dominate for half a game, three quarters, 58 minutes or are you going to dominate for 60 minutes?’ She dominated for 10 innings, and it was just incredible to watch,” Murphy said.
Alabama took the lead in the third inning when center fielder Elissa Brown reached on a leadoff single, advanced on a groundout and scored on an RBI single from Marisa Runyon.
It looked like that would hold as Osorio tore through the Aggies’ potent lineup. She finally allowed a baserunner when she walked a batter in the fifth inning, but Alabama turned a double play to snuff out that threat. A leadoff walk in the sixth was erased by catcher Reagan Dykes, who threw the runner out on a steal attempt.
Texas A&M first baseman Tori Vidales, who hit three home runs in a single game last Sunday against Tennessee, cranked a solo shot to left to tie the game in the top of the seventh.
Osorio responded with a strikeout, then issued another walk.
It was the kind of thing that had allowed other close games to get away from Alabama, a small mistake with large consequences.
“I think the main thing that I needed to do was stay focused and relax and not to allow that home run to affect me,” Osorio said.
It didn’t. She retired 11 of the last 12 batters, allowing a bloop single in the bottom of the 10th inning. In extra innings, she threw a first-pitch strike to nine of the 10 batters she faced.
Hemphill, who had hit a solo home run against Arkansas in Alabama’s opener on Wednesday, blasted one onto the top of the broadcast-booth tent in center field to lead off the top of the 10th.
“I was just attacking the strike zone instead of looking for a walk or anything,” Hemphill said. “I was just attacking strikes.”
Alabama will face 18th-ranked Ole Miss, an upset winner over top-ranked Florida, on Friday at 2 p.m. CT. The Rebels took two out of three games from UA in Oxford, Mississippi, two weekends ago. Texas A&M fell to 42-10.
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.