Sometimes big drama comes in little games.
That was the case Wednesday at Rhoads Stadium, where the ninth-ranked University of Alabama softball team held on for a 1-0 victory over Valparaiso.
The Crimson Tide extended its winning streak to 14 games and needed every one of pitcher Sydney Littlejohn’s career-best 13 strikeouts to do it.
Alabama plated a run in the first inning on Elissa Brown’s bunt single, a steal, a sacrifice bunt and an error.
And that was it for the Crimson Tide offense, which managed just four hits.
“It was like ‘Groundhog Day,'” UA coach Patrick Murphy said, referring to the movie. “A couple of our hitters did the same thing three times. We need to do a better job of making an adjustment.
“We’ve got to do better offensively.”
Littlejohn (8-0) made sure that run held up, but needed an alert defense to do so.
Littlejohn scattered four hits with one walk, but ran into trouble in the top of the sixth inning when the Crusaders strung a couple of hits together to threaten.
Taylor Lawson hit a leadoff single that hugged the third-base line. Carly Trepanier followed with a double to right field that could have scored Lawson, but the runner held close to first as right fielder Chandler Dare tried to run it down. She took off after the ball got past Dare, but could only make it to third.
That left Valpo (6-3) with two runners in scoring position with no outs.
The Crusaders tried to squeeze in the tying run, but batter Jorge Calombaris failed to make contact on an outside pitch. Lawson charged toward home and got caught in a pickle. She was tagged out, but Trepanier snuck into third base to keep the drama alive.
“We were kind of expecting it,” Littlejohn said of the bunt attempt. “It was a curve away. She dove at it.”
Littlejohn took care of the batter, striking her out a couple of pitches later. UA intentionally walked slugger Sam Stewart, bringing up catcher Jenna Stauffenberg, Valpo’s cleanup hitter, with two outs.
She hit a blooper that curved behind first base, and UA second baseman Demi Turner raced over to make a full-extension catch for the third out.
“Kudos to her for pretty much saving the game,” Littlejohn said.
Turner never doubted she would track it down.
“I just tell Syd and our pitchers all the time, if you just leave it here in the park I’ve got your back no matter where it is in my area,” she said. “That’s my mind-set, just hit it to me. In my head, I’m like oh yeah. I got there pretty quick. I saw it and I was there.”
Littlejohn struck out two batters in the seventh and coaxed a high pop-up to the catcher to end it.
“We’re going to be put in those situations coming up in SEC, so in a way – this sounds terrible to say – it was good practice,” the pitcher said. “In those situations you just have to trust what you can do.”
Ashlyn Montgomery (3-1) was the hard-luck loser.
Alabama will open SEC play on Friday at home vs. Arkansas.
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.