The Alabama Stars collected 20 top players with state ties – all but two playing at state colleges, with the other two being natives who play collegiately outside the state – for a softball doubleheader at Rhoads Stadium.
The USA Women’s National Team brought 19 of the nation’s’ best players selected from the other 49 states, along with Haylie McCleney, who was a four-time All-American at the University of Alabama.
It went about like you’d expect.
Team USA defeated the Alabama Stars 9-1 in six innings Thursday evening in the first game in front of a crowd of nearly 2,000 at Rhoads Stadium. The USA cruised to a 7-0 victory in the nightcap.
Playing under a haze of heat and humidity, Team USA pounded out 11 hits and drew five walks. Former Florida star Michelle Moultrie and former Cal standout Valerie Arioto both hit home runs.
The state stars were overmatched, but thrilled for the opportunity.
“This is like once in a lifetime,” said current Alabama player Caroline Hardy, who drew a walk as a pinch hitter. “They’re the best of the best. You know they are the best, but when you get on the field with them, yeah, there’s a reason they’re where they are.”
UA ace pitcher Alexis Osorio started the first game and gave up six runs in four innings – including three unearned runs in the first inning when the Alabama Stars committed three errors – allowing eight hits with five walks and a strikeout.
She found the experience humbling.
“They’re a great hitting team overall, obviously, from the few innings that I threw,” she said. “It was a good experience to actually throw against them.
“It’s an honor. They’re the best in the country. I’m really glad they’re representing us.”
Osorio, who will be a senior next season, did win her head-to-head duel with her former UA teammate McCleney. The USA center fielder hit a single up the middle in the first inning, stole second and scored. Osorio got her to pop out the next time, and coaxed a grounder into a fielder’s choice the third time around. For the game, McCleney was 1-for-4.
“It was really cool,” McCleney said. “My teammates were really supportive of me all week. They’ve had my back and they know how much this means to me.
“Just coming back here is really special. There’s no place like Rhoads Stadium. It’s the best stadium I’ve played on to this day.”
Said Osorio, “I think it was really great to throw against her again.”
Outfielder Moultrie went 2-for-3 with three runs scored to lead the USA. Catcher Amanda Chidester, a Michigan product, also went 2-for-3. Arioto drove in four runs with a sacrifice fly to go with her homer.
Former Oregon star Jessica Moore allowed one run on four hits for the win. Former Florida aces Delanie Gourley and Kelly Barnhill combined for seven outs of no-hit relief.
Ally Carda, a UCLA product, threw four innings of one-hit ball and former Arizona pitcher Danielle O’Toole tossed an inning of no-hit relief in the second game. Devin Brown gave up five runs in 1 2/3 innings to take the loss.
McCleney went 0-for-1 with a walk and a run scored, and got a standing ovation when USA coach Ken Eriksen substituted to end her evening.
“I didn’t know Coach Eriksen was going to do that,” McCleney said. “There weren’t three outs, so I thought there was a miscommunication, there’s only two outs so why am I coming in? And then I caught onto it.
“I was trying not to cry when I was coming in and I was trying not to cry in the dugout. I did succeed; I didn’t cry but I got teary-eyed there for a little bit but I held it together. Hearing them cheer the loudest, the standing ovation thing, that was the coolest part.”