By Brad Cox
Special to The Tuscaloosa News
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Alabama’s second of two softball series losses all season — a home series loss to Kentucky two weeks ago — is still fresh in both teams’ memories.
The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide got a little payback on Friday night.
KB Sides knocked a bases-clearing double to highlight a six-run second inning and Alabama survived some late drama to hang on for a 6-3 victory over the Wildcats in a SEC Tournament semifinal at Texas A&M’s Davis Diamond.
“Definitely getting two taken from us at home — that’s something we talked about all season was not letting anybody beat us on our home turf,” Sides said. “So us coming out today was definitely big for us to come out on top.”
The regular-season, title-winning Crimson Tide (52-6) advanced to face ninth-ranked Florida, the tournament’s sixth seed, in the final at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Gators topped Auburn 3-0 in the other semifinal Friday. Alabama swept Florida during the regular season in Gainesville.
After waiting more than seven innings for a run-scoring hit in Thursday’s 2-1 walk-off victory over Georgia in the quarterfinals, the Tide got going much earlier against No. 21 Kentucky (33-22) on Friday.
Claire Jenkins drew a base-loaded walk to bring in the first run in the second and chase Wildcats starting pitcher Meghan Schorman.
Caroline Hardy then came off the bench and blooped a single into center field to again rotate the bases and make it 2-0.
That’s when Sides ripped a double to the left-centerfield wall that emptied the bags and staked Alabama to a 5-0 advantage. Sides later scored from third on Merris Schroder’s fielder’s choice grounder for the Tide’s last run.
Autumn Humes, who pitched all five innings of Kentucky’s 8-0 quarterfinal victory over Ole Miss earlier in the day, took over in the circle after Larissa Spellman walked the bases full again with one out and promptly stopped the bleeding, shutting down Alabama the rest of the way.
Meanwhile Kentucky chipped away against Alabama starting pitcher Sarah Cornell.
Lauren Johnson led off the third with a single and later scored on Jenny Schaper’s one-out single up the middle. Alex Martens then led the fourth off with a blooped double that just fell fair in left field before scoring on Mallory Peyton’s sacrifice fly to center.
Martens scored the Wildcats’ only other run after reaching on a fielder’s choice in the sixth. Johnson drove a two-out single up the middle to bring Martens home and chase Cornell.
Krystal Goodman took over and got a strikeout to end the threat, but the drama continued in the seventh.
Kentucky got the tying run to the plate after Goodman walked Bailey Vick and Schaper to open the seventh. After a fly out, Goodman had to face one of the SEC Player of the Year Abbey Cheek. Goodman got a fielder’s choice groundout to short out of Cheek and a pop out sent the Tide to the final.
“When Cheek gets up, it’s like Babe Ruth in the box,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. “She had a hell of a good year and to get her out a couple times tonight was big for Krystal and big for our whole team.
There was a big debate in the dugout whether to pitch to her or put her on. Krystal made the pitches and got out of the inning.”
Cornell (21-1) struck out two and gave up three runs on seven hits and one walk. Schorman (5-2) took the loss after the disastrous second. Goodman got the save.