What changed for Alabama softball pitcher Montana Fouts in season-ending WCWS loss to Florida State

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

OKLAHOMA CITY – During Alabama's first two games at the Women's College World Series, Montana Fouts’ ball might as well have been a hologram.

Batters could see it, but they couldn’t hit it. Pitch after pitch they looked like they were swinging through air.

That seemed like a distant memory by the time Fouts faced her fourth Florida State batter Monday night. She started off an uncharacteristic performance by giving up a hit, a walk and a three-run home run.

She never recovered, and coach Patrick Murphy pulled her after 2 2/3 innings. Despite a surge in later innings, the Crimson Tide couldn’t quite score enough runs to make up for the slow start. No. 10 Florida State advanced to the championship series with an 8-5 victory at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium.

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Alabama finishes the season 52-9.

“Montana, unfortunately she was missing some of her spots,” Murphy said on an in-game interview after the third inning on ESPN. “Sometimes that happens and it stinks.”

She hadn’t pitched since Friday, her perfect game against No. 2 UCLA. 

Fouts said she didn’t know what changed.

“I try to go in with the same mindset, just go pitch by pitch,” she said. “I guess it just didn’t go my way.”

The first hit Fouts gave up, a single to leadoff batter Kaley Mudge, looked odd. Not because the hit was odd, but it was just odd to see Fouts give up a hit and a base runner after her impeccable performance against UCLA.  

Then she walked the next batter on a full count, prompting her pitching coach, Stephanie VanBrakle Prothro, to visit the circle.

The next at-bat? An Elizabeth Mason three-run home run to deep left on an 0-2 pitch. Just like that, 3-0 Seminoles.

“I just wanted to get the barrel there,” Mason said. “(Fouts) supplies a lot of power. As long as I could get the barrel through the zone, I knew it would be a hard hit. I’m just glad it went over the fence.”

Mason said the Florida State strategy was to lay off the riseball, something to which UCLA and Arizona fell victim in Alabama’s first two WCWS games. Fouts had 30 combined strikeouts in those games, many off her riseball.

Mason reiterated the Seminoles were trying to get the barrel to the ball and see it down.

“She does spot a couple down in the zone,” Mason said, “so just doing our best to lay off that riseball and when she does miss, to make sure we’re ready for that pitch.”

Overall, the Seminoles proved they were.

Fouts struck out five, but by the time she exited, she had also given up six hits, six earned runs and walked three while facing 18 batters.

“It was getting out of hand, and we needed to stop the bleeding,” Murphy said. “That was basically to give them a different look to see if Lexi (Kilfoyl) could slow them down to give us a chance to get back in the game. She did that.”

Three days prior, the idea that Murphy would have to pull Fouts before she could pitch three innings would have seemed ridiculous. Not when she was playing to perfection. But after two days in which she didn’t play, she couldn’t translate those performances to Monday.

Her outing against Florida State, her third-shortest of the season, was a rare performance compared to how she played down the stretch.  

Fouts gave up six earned runs only one other time during 2021, against Texas A&M on April 2. Until Monday, she hadn’t surrendered more than three earned runs in any appearances since.

Her defense certainly could have helped her out a bit more. For example, Maddie Morgan picked up an error trying to throw to second in the second inning, allowing a runner to get on base.

But non-perfect defensive play aside, Fouts didn’t play to the level she proved she could play at WCWS and in the NCAA Tournament.

And Florida State hit well, especially early on. The Seminoles are on a four-game winning streak in Oklahoma City. Mudge went 5-for-5, something Murphy said he hasn’t seen done against Alabama.

“I think we did a good job of battling pitches,” Florida State coach Lonni Alameda said. “I think when Mudge got in there and she started fouling off stuff, it was just let’s put the ball in play and make her work. I definitely don’t know if it was (Fouts’) inability as much as our ability to make sure we can use our plan vs. her. She’s incredible, and she’s had an incredible season.”