Nothing has come easy for the 2019 Alabama softball team.
It’s been a hard, steady grind in the regular season to the top of the SEC standings and through the postseason.
So with a berth in the Women’s College World Series on the line, it made sense the Crimson Tide had to persevere – and perspire in 90-plus degree heat – to make it happen.
Two big home runs, clutch pitching and defense paced Alabama to an 8-5 victory over Texas on Saturday in a super-regional championship game at Rhoads Stadium, earning the Crimson Tide a trip to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Alabama (57-8) opens the WCWS on Thursday against top-seed Oklahoma (53-3).
“I said before the game I’d rather have gritty than pretty any day as a ball player and do whatever you have to do to get it done,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. “They have done that all year long.”
For a program in its 23rd season, Alabama is making its 12th appearance in the WCWS and its first since 2016.
“There are only two other schools have gone more than not,” Murphy said. “It’s Alabama, Arizona (22) and UCLA (29). That is a hell of a tradition and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
Alabama had to work hard for this one.
After taking Game 1 with the Longhorns on Thursday, the Crimson Tide blew a 4-0 lead in Game 2 on Friday and fell 7-5 to even the series, setting up a winner-take-all Game 3 on Saturday afternoon.
In a game that lasted just over three hours with temperatures hitting the low 90s, Alabama broke open Saturday’s finale with a five-run outburst in the third inning.
KB Sides, batting in the leadoff spot, hit a three-run homer off reliever Shealyn O’Leary to break a 1-1 tie and put Alabama up 4-1. The next batter, Bailey Hemphill, blasted a solo home run to left field for 25th of the season to make it 5-1. Hemphill’s shot tied her with All-American Kelly Kretschman (1998) for the UA single-season record.
“You guys and I probably expect it now,” Murphy said of Hemphill’s home-run prowess. “We moan and groan when she pops up or ever misses one. She’s become that type of hitter here. She has a good eye and has been very consistent this year. She is just a steady offensive threat. She’s a consistent, competitive, confident kid. Those are the three ‘Cs’ I want.”
Alabama added another run in the fourth courtesy of a Maddie Morgan bloop RBI single just over the third baseman’s head. Morgan, who went 3-for-3 with three RBIs, also scored the Tide’s first run in the second inning after leading off with a double.
“I was just trying to keep it simple, just put it in play was the most important thing,” Morgan said. “That little blooper (in the fourth inning) was a change-up so I was just trying to put it in play. Luckily it went in our favor.”
Texas didn’t go away though.
Leading 7-1 in the top of the fifth, Alabama pitcher Montana Fouts loaded the bases on a hit batter, a single and a walk to bring up Shannon Rhodes with one out. The Texas third baseman belted a grand slam to center field to cut Alabama’s lead 7-5.
“(Fouts) was trying to get ahead, and unfortunately that kid was 3-for-3 today and got the grand slam,” Murphy said. “I didn’t think they were crushing her so I thought she’d come back and she settled down really, really well.”
Over the next two innings Fouts held Texas at bay, allowing just a single and a walk, to earn the complete-game victory. She threw a season-high 150 pitches, allowed the five earned runs on seven hits with four strikeouts and five walks.
Fouts got the final batter to pop up to Sides in right field to set off the wild celebration in the infield.
“It means the world,” Morgan said of reaching the World Series. “We have worked so hard and the seniors have led this team so well. This team deserves everything in the world and I’m just so proud. I’m speechless.”