Montana Fouts was done reliving the bad start to her 2020 season. That’s all she had to do to end it.
After her first weekend — in which she gave up eight walks and eight hits in 10 1/3 innings — she dwelled on the things she did wrong. The self-doubt that followed led to another bad weekend, collecting two losses while allowing eight hits and seven walks over four innings. The result: an 0-2 record and a 4.88 ERA after four appearances.
“This time, I completely forgot that even happened. That was my mindset all week, trying to flush it,” Fouts said. “Before the game, I was pretty good.”
Fouts’ clear mind brought her back to physical form for a two-hit shutout of Penn State, walking none and striking out 11 as UA beat the Nittany Lions 5-0. UA improved to 6-5 on the day after the 13-2 win over Wichita State (5-8) earlier on Friday.
“She had this moxie about her, this fight about her that I think maybe was missing the first two weeks, we didn’t see it much, but it was awesome to see tonight,” left fielder Alexis Mack said. “She was just mowing people down left to right, it was great.”
Fouts’ newfound confidence was on display early, getting a first-pitch strike on 17 of the 25 batters she faced and 10 of the 14 she faced in the first four innings. The same pitcher that got through her entire freshman season allowing 2.196 walks per seven innings was allowing 7.325 before Friday. Going seven innings without a walk but 11 strikeouts was bringing back memories of 2019 Fouts.
“Just looked like a totally different kid,” UA coach Patrick Murphy said. “The kid from last year, really.
“I think it helps that every now and then, when she throws at night she looks a little bit harder, faster. That’s just the benefit of playing at night. And, of course, I don’t think it’s easy to hit in 37 degrees and the kid’s throwing 66, 68.”
The way Fouts (1-2) finished leads Murphy to believe there is more of this to come: she struck out the side in the seventh.
Mack was consistent in giving UA’s pitchers run support in both games. She had three hits in the second game against Penn State and one in the first game against Wichita State, doing so both by bunting to reach base and hitting to drive in runners. Her first-inning single against Wichita State — her second at-bat of the inning – drove in two runs and a second-inning single against Penn State scored a run.
“She’s so good with the bat. She has some of the best bat control we’ve ever had,” Murphy said. “I have 100 percent confidence that she’s going to put the ball in play. She’s very, very good at what she does.”
Mack’s offensive impact was just as big on the base paths. She stole bases after two of her four hits and after one of her two walks.
“The game plan for me is to be fearless on the bases, and that’s my mindset,” Mack said. “I’m not worrying about, ‘Am I going to get thrown out on this pitch, on this pitch.’ I’m going to keep the defense on their toes and I’m going to put myself in scoring position for the big hitters behind me.”
She was followed by shortstop Skylar Wallace, who also had a productive day. After going 2-for-2 with three RBI and a walk against Wichita State, she was retired in her first three at-bats against Penn State. Battling against a two-strike count, Penn State left fielder Melina Livingston dropped a foul ball. She took her second chance and made the most of it with a RBI double, driving in the ever important fifth run of cushion.
“Last year, Skylar would’ve folded had she gone over 0-for-2 or 0-for-3,” Murphy said. “This year, Skylar is a different kid and she comes up with a double in her last at bat. It’s just maturity.”
Wallace reached base twice in the first inning against Wichita State that saw UA bring 12 hitters to the plate and score seven. The four runs that followed in the second were more than enough support for Lexi Kilfoyl (3-2), who allowed two hits and two runs, one earned, in five innings.
“I just think she’s really cool, really good demeanor,” Murphy said. “She reminds me a little bit of Alexis Osorio: nothing bothers her, she’s very even-keeled, doesn’t get too high or too low. She gives up the home run, she comes right back. Nothing gets to her, and that’s a good quality for a freshman pitcher throwing her first game at home. She’s just going to get better and better, too.”
UA continues the Easton Bama Bash with games against Louisville (4-7) and Penn State (5-7) at 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m., respectively.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson