By Pat Dooley
The Gainesville Sun
GAINESVILLE — Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy couldn’t have imagined a scenario his team would bunt three times in one inning, let alone three times in a row.
But the bunt game turned out to be the difference as the Crimson Tide moved to within one win of another Women’s College World Series.
Alabama scored three runs without a hit in the fifth inning and Alexis Osorio gutted it out in the circle as Alabama won 3-0.
“We had three really good bunts in the inning,” Murphy said, “and it kind of snowballed.”
The two teams play again Friday at 7 p.m. The 16th seeded Crimson Tide (46-16) beat top-seeded Florida (53-8) for the first time in the postseason.
Florida starter Kelly Barnhill sailed into the fifth inning having faced the minimum before Alabama freshman Bailey Hemphill led off the inning with a walk.
Then, all heck broke loose.
Alabama’s Reagan Dykes laid down a bunt and Barnhill (23-3) chose to try to get pinch-runner Mari Cranek at second. Cranek beat the throw to give Alabama two on with nobody out.
Chandler Dare then bunted back to Barnhill, who threw well over the head of second baseman Nicole DeWitt covering first. That allowed two runs to score in a game where runs were at a premium.
Then, it was a replay of the previous play all over again. The next batter — Sydney Booker — again bunted back to Barnhill, the sophomore pitcher sailed the ball wildly again to make the score 3-0.
“She’s a great pitcher and we just kept laying them down and things went our way,” said Dare.
In the bottom of the inning, Florida loaded the bases with two outs before Osorio got Janell Wheaton to fly out to left after the Gator catcher fouled off five two-strike pitches.
“I’ve been in that situation numerous times,” said Osorio (23-7). “I just had to keep calm and stay within myself.”
Demi Turner led off the game with an opposite-field single against Barnhill, but after an Elissa Brown pop out she was cut down trying to steal second.
Barnhill then struck out nine straight batters while Florida was wasting opportunities to score as Osorio kept working her way out of trouble.
“I’ve been through a lot this year so it was just important to keep attacking the strike zone,” Osorio said.
Alabama finished the game with only two hits while Florida managed just three. Osorio walked three batters and hit four while striking out eight.
“In the postseason, it all comes down to three things,” said Murphy. “Starting pitching, which we had, great team defense and timely hitting. I guess you could say we had timely sacrifice bunting.”