Alabama vs. Arizona State
When: 1 p.m. (if-necessary game at 3:30 p.m.)
Where: Rhoads Stadium
Radio: 93.3 FM
Pressure-packed situations require big-time decisions.
It’s a good thing Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy listens to his players.
Pinch-hitter Caroline Hardy hit a three-run double, which missed being a grand slam by just a couple of inches, to break a tie and power the Crimson Tide to a 7-4 win against Arizona State in the second round of the Tuscaloosa Regional on Saturday at Rhoads Stadium.
Alabama (54-7) plays in Sunday’s championship at 1 p.m. against the winner of Saturday’s late game between Arizona State and Lipscomb or Alabama State. Alabama needs to win just once to win the regional and advance to next weeks super regional.
With the game tied 4-4 and the bases loaded, Murphy turned to Alabama base runner Bailey Hemphill, who was on third, to talk over the situation.
“When I went over to Bailey I said, ‘What do you think here?’ She said, ‘you know what, Caroline’s been hitting the ball really well this week.’ I said, ‘you know, you’re right.’ So credit to coach Bailey.” Murphy said.
Hardy, who had just six at-bats in the last month, watched the first two pitches go by and was quickly down 0-2 in the count.
She didn’t watch the third pitch.
She hit a shot off the top of the wall in center field to get the big hit Alabama needed for its first lead of the game.
Did she think it was a home run?
“No, I was just so happy,” she said. “I didn’t think, I was just running. I should have looked in the alley on whether I should have gone to second or not. Thankfully I didn’t get thrown out.”
The big lead was enough to support Alabama freshman pitcher Montana Fouts, who was roughed up a bit early, allowing two runs in the first inning and two more in the second.
With a big lead, however, Fouts settled down and has almost unhittable the rest of the game. Arizona State had just three base runners from the third inning on. In the complete-game win, Fouts tied a career-high with 12 strikeouts and allowed three earned runs on seven hits with just two walks.
One of those hits, the last one, was almost costly. Skylar McCarty’s bat snapped in half on a base hit and the barrel flew past Fouts in the circle.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in a college softball game,” Murphy said. “That was close.”
Fouts struck out the next better to end the game.
“She just needed to settle down a little bit and get into a rhythm and get into a flow and she did that,” Murphy said. “She is a very resilient kid and we have a resilient team. We came back a couple of times and showed some guts.”
Kindra Hackbarth put the Sun Devils up early with a two-run home run in the first inning. Alabama responded in the bottom half with Elissa Brown scoring on a Kaylee Tow sac fly, which also missed being a home run, but center fielder Morgan Howe reached over the wall to pull it back in. Hemphilll had an RBI single to make it a 2-2 game.
Arizona State put up two more runs in the second inning courtesy of two Crimson Tide errors. Reagan Dykes, who made one of those errors, got the run back in the bottom of the second with a solo home run to left field.
“That was nice. I had to make up for that error,” she said.
Tow scored the tying run on a Skylar Wallace single and then Hardy came up with the biggest hit of her career.
“We talk about it all the time,” Murphy said. “When it’s your time, blessings will be bestowed upon you. (Hardy) has stuck with it all year – never complains, is the ultimate teammate. She would get robbed and we would say blessings are coming. And today she got them. Couldn’t happen to a better kid.”