Alabama secures the No. 5 seed in the SEC Tournament
Crooked can be beautiful.
It looked that way to the University of Alabama softball team on Sunday, when the Crimson Tide produced a three-run outburst in the third inning and made it stand for a 3-2 victory over cross-state rival Auburn.
UA closed out the regular season with a victory at Rhoads Stadium to improve to 40-15, with a 12-11 finish in conference play. Alabama secured the No. 5 seed in the SEC Tournament and will play 12th-seeded Arkansas on Wednesday at 11 a.m. CT in Knoxville, Tennessee. The winner will play fourth-seeded Texas A&M on Thursday.
Auburn (47-9, 17-7 SEC) was denied a series sweep. The Tigers finished second in the league and will play Thursday in the SEC Tournament against the Kentucky-South Carolina winner.
In the parlance of softball and baseball, a crooked-number inning is one in which a team scores more than one run. Up until Sunday’s big inning, Alabama had put up a lot of round numbers – zeroes – in the series and one straight one, which came when UA scored a run in the sixth inning of the second game, its only previous run over 18 innings.
The outburst marked the first time Alabama had scored three or more runs in an inning in SEC play in a month, a span of 70 innings dating back to the first inning of the first game of the LSU series.
“That’s too long,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said.
That it came against Auburn’s No. 3 pitcher, surprise starter Ashlee Swindle (2-1), didn’t matter to Alabama. Offensively challenged teams can’t be choosy. UA was willing to take what it could get, regardless of circumstance.
“I’m just glad we could finally get our pitchers’ backs,” said senior Marisa Runyon. “They’ve been carrying us all year.”
It was sparked by freshmen. Second baseman Claire Jenkins singled through the right side of the infield, center fielder Elissa Brown chopped a single over third base and, with two outs, outfielder Gabby Callaway singled in a run.
The big hit came from Runyon, who came up with two runners on base and drove them both in with a double to the gap in left-center.
“I could tell when she walked up, even in pregame, her body language was much better,” Murphy said. “I don’t know what it is, I guess doing it for 21 years, but I can look at a kid and I can see that she feels good about herself.
“I could tell when she stepped in the box that she felt good, and that’s half the battle sometimes.”
That gave Alabama a 3-1 lead. The Tigers brought in No. 2 pitcher Makayla Martin, who kept the Crimson Tide from adding any insurance the rest of the way. Auburn got a solo home run from Haley Fagan in the top of the third and another in the fifth, but the lead held.
Alabama ace Alexis Osorio (20-7) held Auburn to three hits with 14 strikeouts and six walks in 6 2/3 innings. She attacked the heart of the order.
“I’ve never seen the four and five hole go 0-for-8 with eight strikeouts,” Murphy said. “That’s just unbelievable.”
Osorio pitched herself into, and out of, bases-loaded situations in the first two innings. After that, she pretty much controlled things aside from Fagan’s two solo shots.
“We’ve been through it the entire season,” Osorio said of the tight situations. “It’s natural now.
“It’s awesome to pitch with some runs up on the board. I know we’ve struggled a lot over the season, but I know the struggle is going to help us in the future.”
Fagan got one last shot in the top of the seventh inning. Osorio struck out the first two batters of the final inning, and senior Sydney Littlejohn came out of the bullpen to get Fagan to ground out for the save.
Alabama drew a third straight sellout crowd of 4,015, to bring the weekend’s total attendance to 12,045.
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.