This one had a little of everything.
Lows. Highs. Drama. A rain delay. More drama, and in the end, a gritty comeback win for the Alabama softball team.
Alabama fought back from a 5-0 deficit and held off an Arizona State rally to take a 9-8 win in the championship game of the Tuscaloosa Regional at Rhoads Stadium on Sunday.
Alabama (55-7) will host a super regional next weekend against either Texas or Houston.
“That was an instant classic in my mind, and I have no idea what the heck happened. I don’t remember anything,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said.
Alabama broke an 8-8 tie in the top of the seventh when KB Sides drilled a line-drive single to left field to score Merris Schroder from second with the winning run.
Alabama entered Sunday’s game having won 39 straight regional tournament games in Tuscaloosa. With that streak in danger, it was probably a good thing the Crimson Tide players were in the dark about it.
“We didn’t even know,” outfielder Sides said. “I guess Murph wouldn’t have been too happy if we didn’t win.”
First came the lows on Sunday.
Arizona State’s Morgan Howe hit a two-run homer in the third inning, and Jade Gortarez hit a three-run shot in the fourth for a 5-0 ASU lead.
Alabama was off-balanced at the plate against ASU starting pitcher Cielo Meza through the first four innings, collecting just three hits with nine outs coming on weak pop-ups.
“In the fifth inning we said, ‘Flush it, short-term memory, let’s do something different,” Murphy said.
That led to the highs.
Schroder got the rally going in the fifth with a solo home run to left field for the Crimson Tide’s first run of the game. Elissa Brown, who had three singles Sunday and six for the tournament, reached on an infield hit and Sides followed with another infield hit. Kaylee Tow walked and Alabama had new life with the bases loaded and just one out.
That set up some drama for Bailey Hemphill.
The Crimson Tide’s leader in home runs added to her total (23) with a grand slam off Meza to left-center field to tie the game 5-5.
“I knew she didn’t want to walk me,” Hemphill said of the at-bat. “I was just looking for a strike to hit. Lucky enough, she left it pretty fat right there. I knew I had to get it in the air to at least score one run. Lucky enough it went over.”
Alabama continued the hit parade in the sixth inning on an RBI singles from Tow and Hemphill and an RBI groundout from Skylar Wallace to push the lead to 8-5.
In the sixth Alabama had the perfect scenario: a three-run lead, it’s ace in the circle and two outs.
It did work out perfectly — for ASU. The Sun Devils loaded the bases on three straight walks, including two by Alabama reliever Montana Fouts. Gortarez got a two-run double and Maddi Hackbarth’s RBI single tied the game 8-8.
“I think the negative today was the nine walks,” Murphy said. “That’s really uncharacteristic of our pitchers. When you add up the walks and sprinkle in a double and a single that’s not a good formula.”
After Schroder’s go-ahead run in the seventh, ASU got the leadoff runner on base.
Then the rains came and delayed action for just a few minutes.
Then came more drama.
A Howe single with two outs put ASU runners on first and second two out. Skylar McCarty hit a line drive to third base, where Maddie Morgan made the catch to end the game.
“I think my heart dropped a little bit and then I saw Maddie’s glove go up and saw her celebrating.”