The streak celebrated its 11th birthday Saturday at Rhoads Stadium, where it came into existence.
The Alabama softball team won its 36th consecutive game in NCAA regional play, defeating Wisconsin 9-1 in five innings to extend the nation’s longest such string of victories.
The observance of the occasion was low-key. Players led the home crowd in an “Ala-Bama” chant, punctuated with a “Roll Tide.” They then quietly gathered their equipment and marched off the field to begin resting up for Sunday’s 1:30 p.m. Tuscaloosa Regional final.
The victory had many of the hallmarks of the ones that came before: It took patience – including sitting through a weather delay of 3 hours, 3 minutes – as well as pitching, defense, and punch at the plate.
Senior ace Alexis Osorio struck out seven batters, allowing one run one on one hit, the first earned run she had allowed in 44 1/3 career innings of regional play. It was evidence that the two-time All-American is coming around after laboring with a forearm injury that has limited her in practice and games all season.
“Osorio was back to normal a little bit, or closer to normal,” said Patrick Murphy, UA’s head coach for the entirety of the streak. “That’s the old Osorio that we’re used to in regional play.”
First baseman Bailey Hemphill hit a two-run home run to key a three-run outburst in the third inning. Catcher Reagan Dykes cranked a three-run bomb to highlight a six-run fifth.
“Just big-time players come through in the clutch,” Murphy said.
Dykes also produced two inning-ending defensive gems. She turned a double play in the second, catching a pop-up behind the plate and making a snap throw to catch a runner off third base. She gunned down a runner on a steal attempt at second to close out the third.
“Those are just plays that I was supposed to make,” Dykes said.
You can call Bonnie Bynum Graham the mother of the streak. She was a senior pitcher for Tennessee Tech with a wicked curveball who tamed Alabama in a 4-2 upset. The Crimson Tide roared back to beat the Golden Eagles twice to win that 2007 regional.
“I think she’s the head coach there now,” Murphy said.
Yep. Has been for six years.
A lot has happened since that day 11 years ago, when Alabama defeated Florida State to get it started. Twenty-one Alabama players have played out their entire four-year careers between that moment and Saturday without a regional loss, and that doesn’t count six seniors on the current roster nor the players who had already begun their careers when the streak began.
Back then, UA players called each other on their Nokia cell phones: the iPhone didn’t arrive on the market until about six weeks later.
When the streak began, Tobey Maguire was Spider-Man, Tiger Woods was still winning majors, and book stores were taking pre-orders for the final installment in the Harry Potter series.
Closer to home, Nick Saban hadn’t coached his first football game at Alabama – unless you count the A-Day Game where he was greeted by more than 92,000 fans a few weeks before – much less won a national championship trophy at UA.
A total of 13 total royal weddings have taken place during the span that Alabama has been unbeaten in regional play, including Prince Harry’s nuptials to Meghan Markle a few hours before the start of Saturday’s game.
The streak is on its way to becoming lore. It has survived threats from invaders who came from Washington to Connecticut, California to Texas. Oregon, holder of the second-longest current streak, was playing for its 27th straight regional win Saturday evening.
Current players who hadn’t even begun their youth summer-ball careers when it all began are now part of it.
“I just think this team has really adopted that this is our house, this is our time, this is what we do in regionals,” Murphy said, “and we peak at the right time.”
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.