No Montana Fouts? No problem for Jaala Torrence, Alabama softball | Goodbread
Jaala Torrence was the answer.
The question was one Patrick Murphy would've rather not had to solve until 2024, but the Alabama softball coach got a strong glimpse of the challenge − playing without fifth-year ace pitcher Montana Fouts − in the NCAA regional tournament this weekend.
Torrence fired a five-hit shutout in a Sunday elimination game to lead the Crimson Tide to a 1-0 win over Middle Tennessee State, allowing UA to advance to super regional play next weekend. Nearly eight hours before Torrence's eighth strikeout clinched the victory, Murphy, Fouts, her parents, and UA's Dr. Lyle Cain huddled online in a Zoom session to discuss the state of Fouts' recovery from an injury sustained in the SEC Tournament. She looked outstanding, Murphy said, in a 10 a.m. bullpen session. The coach agonized over what he described as "1,000 scenarios" regarding whether, and when, to turn to his star with a 23-9 record.
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She could have pitched.
Had Ally Shipman not cracked a solo home run in the final inning to avoid extra frames, she might've had to pitch.
MTSU beat Alabama 4-1 earlier in the day, forcing the elimination game and nearly forcing Murphy's hand where Fouts was concerned. Instead, Murphy stuck with Torrence to finish the shutout, which spared Fouts the stress of game action on a hyperextended left knee that will get continued rehab this week. For Alabama, winning three of four tournament games without Fouts served as a measure of validation for a team that understandably garners a different level of respect when its ace is in the circle.
Zeroes add up the same no matter who is pitching, however, and on Sunday, Torrence was the ace. She walked just one, and the Blue Raiders never reached third base, much less home plate.
"I can't even tell you how big that is. It's called fast-pitch for a reason. When your position has a circle drawn around it, you are very important to the team, and you saw that today," Murphy said. "… To be able to do it without Montana says a lot about the team, about their resiliency and grit."
It stood in stark contrast to the scene at Rhoads Stadium exactly this time one year ago. Turn back the calendar 12 months, and Murphy was at a loss to explain how his 2022 team failed to qualify for super regional play with Fouts amassing 23-plus innings while appearing in every game of the regional tourney.
This time, she never made it past the bullpen.
And this time, Alabama met the moment without her.
Tuscaloosa News columnist Chase Goodbread is also the weekly co-host of Crimson Cover TV on WVUA-23 and the Talkin' Tide podcast. Reach him at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @chasegoodbread.