All the University of Alabama softball team had to do to win the Tuscaloosa Regional was beat the No. 1-ranked team in the country.
To do that, all the Crimson Tide had to do was score a run.
It did, each time.
Alabama defeated Minnesota, 1-0, on Sunday in front of a crowd of more than 1,900 at Rhoads Stadium to win its 13th straight regional and 15th overall. The Crimson Tide advances to the best-of-three super regional round at Florida, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The victory assured UA (45-16) of remaining the only team in the country to make a super regional in all 13 years since that format was adopted.
The one run stood up because of the pitching of Sydney Littlejohn and Alexis Osorio. They went head to head with a Minnesota lineup that came in with a .349 batting average, one of the tops in the country, with 65 home runs. The Golden Gophers were averaging 7.5 runs per game.
They didn’t scratch against the Crimson Tide. Not in a nine-inning, 1-0 Alabama victory the day before, and not in the regional championship rematch.
“They were terrific,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said.
Littlejohn (17-8) started and pitched to the minimum number of batters through three innings, allowing one hit that was erased when shortstop Sydney Booker turned a double play in the second. In the fifth, surprise starter Rachel Bobo made a running, full-layout catch of a ball in foul territory down the left-field line for an out to end the inning.
Rachel Bobo lays out and saves a run, preserving #Alabama's 1-0 lead against #Minnesota
What a catch. pic.twitter.com/EykagHo0EN
— Chandler Rome (@Chandler_Rome) May 21, 2017
“The defense was great and amazing,” Littlejohn said. “That’s the reason I feel like I was effective, because I knew they were going to make the plays behind me. I didn’t have any worries.”
Minnesota (56-5) began to time her in the sixth. Murphy turned to Osorio, who pitched the final five outs without a hit or a walk, striking out two for the save.
34th straight NCAA Tournament Regional Win.
Ticket punched to 13th straight NCAA Super Regional.@AlabamaSB is BUILT for the postseason. pic.twitter.com/20Szl8xn42
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) May 22, 2017
The Gophers managed just five hits with one walk against UA’s duo. Alabama didn’t fare much better against Minnesota ace Sara Groenewegen (31-4), who yielded five hits without a walk and seven strikeouts.
T5: In @saragroe we trust! 🙌
Another big strikeout gets the #Gophers out of trouble! They trail 1-0 to Alabama in a must win game. pic.twitter.com/nMVOwIKL74
— Minnesota Softball (@GopherSoftball) May 21, 2017
Murphy saw an opportunity to get a run early, and pounced on it. Senior outfielder Chandler Dare floated a single over first base. Marisa Runyon hit an opposite-field double with two outs.
“I wanted to be up there,” Runyon said. “I wanted the bat in my hand. I was ready to get that first RBI.”
Runyon wasn’t sure it was enough to bring Dare all the way around from first base. Dare beat the relay throw and got under the tag at home plate.
“I didn’t think we’d get many chances, and that was a huge chance with a double in the gap,” Murphy said.
Alabama was seeded 16th, but still drew the Big Ten champions, who were snubbed by the selection committee that seeded the tournament.
“This could have been a super regional game, because it really was the caliber of that round,” Murphy said. “To me, this was one of the most satisfying. I don’t know how many we’ve won, but it’s right up there at the top.”
Minnesota’s coach endorses Alabama’s chances.
“You can’t take away anything from Alabama, they had an unbelievable weekend,” Jessica Allister said. “Those pitchers threw great, they played great defense, they got big hits. That is a good ball club. They’ve got a chance to do some big things.”
Reach Tommy Deas at tommy@tidesportscom or at 205-722-0224.