Scrutinizing Alabama's decision to start Lexi Kilfoyl over Montana Fouts in loss to Florida State

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

OKLAHOMA CITY — Montana Fouts entered Sunday fresh off a day of rest and the day before that, a perfect game.

But she never made an appearance against No. 10 Florida State, in a win-and-advance to the Women’s College World Series finals scenario for No. 3 Alabama. The Crimson Tide gave Lexi Kilfoyl the start instead.

And after a 2-0 loss that ended Alabama’s 20-game win streak, the Crimson Tide (52-8) and Seminoles (47-11-1) will face off again Monday in a win-and-advance situation for both teams.

Alabama coach Patrick Murphy kept his answer short when asked why he made the decision to start Kilfoyl.  

“She gives us a good chance to win,” he said. “That’s the only reason.”

The argument for starting Kilfoyl has merit. Alabama didn’t have to win Sunday to survive while Florida State did, and Kilfoyl, who likely was going to be called on to pitch at some point, still provides Alabama a strong chance to win. Just recently, she proved as much with a one-run complete game against Kentucky to clinch Alabama’s spot in the WCWS.

Monday:How to watch Alabama vs. Florida State softball on TV, live stream in the 2021 WCWS

She’s just not playing like Fouts is right now. That’s not an indictment of Kilfoyl; Fouts is just playing at an elite level few can touch.

The door opened to consider playing Fouts for part of the game when the rain delay struck. The NCAA decided to move both the Oklahoma-James Madison and Alabama-Florida State “if necessary” games to Monday. Both were supposed to be played Sunday.

That meant only one game Sunday, not two.

Still, Murphy and his staff didn’t waiver in their decision to pitch Kilfoyl the whole game despite changes in circumstances.

“There wasn’t a difference,” he said. “No difference for us.”

There was, however, for Florida State.

Seminoles coach Lonni Alameda said the rain delay changed their game plan. Instead of waiting to have top pitcher Kathryn Sandercock pitch until the second game, they had her pitch the last 2⅓ innings Sunday after Caylan Arnold. Sandercock didn’t surrender a hit or a run.

“When we went to the one game, then I thought Caylan for sure with the rise and change,” Alameda said. “She’s been great. She’s been able to handle righties and lefties and get to the third and fourth inning, then Kat could do what she does by keeping the ball on the dirt.”

Alameda said the rain delay moving the second game to Monday definitely worked in their favor.

It perhaps could have for Alabama, too.

“I think when you’re going into a doubleheader, it’s easy to go to have Montana for Game 2,” Alameda said. “But when we got the rain delay, it was probably the mindset that, ‘Oh, there’s only one game today.’ And that might change a little bit. So I don’t know what they were thinking on that. But I don’t think there’s a whole lot of difference with the two of them. I know Montana has been lights out for them, but I do think Kilfoyl is very good, too. She kept them right in that ballgame.”

Kilfoyl gave up seven hits and two earned runs with two walks and nine strikeouts.

The Alabama offense, or more accurately the lack thereof, deserves more of the blame for the loss. The Crimson Tide managed only two hits and never advanced past second. Alabama left four runners on base.

“I think we were just honestly pressing just a little too much,” infielder Maddie Morgan said.

In a loss, everything gets scrutinized. Especially when it’s the loss that ended a 20-game win streak in the middle of the WCWS. And of course, hindsight is 20/20.

The “what if” game can be played plenty, especially when it comes to asking what if the Alabama bats could have gotten a couple more hits? Or what if Montana Fouts started against Florida State?

Monday should provide the answer to the latter.