TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Yes, the heat was on at Rhoads Stadium, and not because of the temperature.
When Montana Fouts threw her first pitch in the deciding game of the Tuscaloosa Super Regional, it was 92 degrees. It later hit 97, a record high for May 25 in Tuscaloosa as Alabama softball's season was on the line against Texas.
Something had to give. Something did.
But it wasn’t the Crimson Tide.
Aided by some defensive gems, including a diving catch to open the game by senior left fielder Merris Schroder and a one-hop throw home by junior center fielder Elissa Brown to save a run, Alabama held on for an 8-5 victory to advance to the Women's College Word Series.
Alabama will open the double-elimination tournament against top-seeded Oklahoma on Thursday.
“I told them before the game I wanted gritty, not pretty," Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. "I’d rather have gritty than pretty any day.”
Only half of Alabama’s eight runs were earned due to two Texas errors.
“It comes down to fundamentals,” said Longhorns coach Mike White, whose team had won five straight elimination games including last weekend's regional.
Murphy made some lineup changes for the clincher, moving No. 2 hitter KB Sides to leadoff and dropping Brown to the nine hole after she’d struggled with repeatedly being called out for stepping out of the box.
“KB’s high school coach told me she was a great leadoff hitter,” said Murphy.
Sides responded by reaching base three times and driving in four runs. She got the Crimson Tide (57-8) on the board first in the home half of the second with a one-out RBI single to right.
To quote a press box pundit, the blooper was a true “Texas Leaguer" (pun intended).” It wasn’t the last.
Despite leading 1-0 after two innings, Alabama left the bases loaded in both the first two frames. Texas (46-17) tied the game in the third on a two-out RBI single to right by hot-hitting catcher Mary Iacopo.
Maddie Morgan (3-for-3, three RBIs) put the Crimson Tide back in front in the home half with a sacrifice fly scoring Skylar Wallace. Three batters later, Sides struck again with a three-run blast to center.
“I just kept saying, ‘What the heck just happened?,’” Sides said of the home run. “That was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced.”
Not to be outdone, Bailey Hemphill belted her 25th bomb of the year, tying Kelly Kretschman’s single-season school record that had stood since 1998.
After three innings, Fouts had a 6-1 cushion. However, third baseman Shannon Rhodes’ grand slam got Texas to within two in the visitors’ fifth, 7-5.
Yet another Texas Leaguer by Morgan to left field plated an insurance run in the Tide sixth.
With two on and two out in the seventh, Fouts got Spain Park grad MK Tedder to pop out to Sides, and the Tide clinched its 12th trip to the WCWS in program history.
“That is a hell of a tradition, and I’m so proud to be a part of it,” Murphy said.