TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The resilient collection of Alabama fans remaining inside Rhoads Stadium on Saturday night clamored for a reason to erupt.
Earlier in the day, they weathered through seven sun-drenched innings as the Crimson Tide saw its 44-game winning streak in NCAA regional play snapped in a shutout loss to Stanford. With Alabama relegated to a regional losers’ bracket for the first time since 2007, it was then made to wait as Chattanooga outdueled Murray State over eight innings in a game that was delayed by lightning.
By the time Alabama’s elimination game against Chattanooga rolled around Jenna Johnson ensured that patience paid off. The Crimson Tide leadoff hitter took the fourth pitch of the game over the left-field fence, sending the home crowd into a frenzy while sparking a slumping Alabama lineup to a 6-2 victory.
"It was a long wait, it was a long day, but the crowd was into and we could feel their energy," Johnson said. "I really wanted to get a run on the board for the team, and I was able to do that and get things started."
Alabama elected to use Dallis Goodnight as its leadoff hitter in its first game of the Tuscaloosa regional on Friday before using Ashley Prange as its leadoff hitter in the loss to Stanford earlier Saturday. The duo combined to go 0-for-5 over the two games. Entering Saturday night's matchup against Chattanooga, Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy turned to his team for an answer at the leadoff spot.
"I said, 'You've got to help me out here. Who wants to hit leadoff,'" Murphy said following the game. "The first I heard was [Johnson's]. ... I could feel the confidence in her for, so I said, 'Let's go. You're hitting leadoff.'"
With the win, Alabama will advance to Sunday’s championship round where it will need to beat Stanford twice in order to advance to its 17th straight super regional. The Cardinal beat the Crimson Tide 6-0 earlier Saturday. Alabama and Stanford are set to square off on Sunday at 10:05 a.m. CT with a possible second game scheduled for 30 minutes after the first.
After Johnson set the tone early for Alabama during Saturday night’s do-or-die game against Chattanooga, a strong performance from Jaala Torrence in the circle ensured the Crimson Tide’s season would live on at least another day.
Making her first appearance since an April 27 loss to Western Kentucky, the sophomore starter pitched 61/3 innings, giving up two earned runs on six hits and three walks while striking out two batters. She was relieved by Montana Fouts, who retired both batters she faced in the bottom of the seventh.
With Lexi Kilfoyl still battling hip and foot injuries, Torrence's fill-in start was crucial for the Crimson Tide as it had already used Fouts as well as fellow starter Alex Salter in each of its previous two games of the regional.
"I had complete faith in [Torrence]," Murphy said. "Her mid-week games this year were terrific. That's kind of what she did all year long in the mid-week games for us."
Despite its fast start, Alabama wasn’t able to break the game open until a two-run single from Jenna Lord extended its lead to 5-1 in the top of the sixth inning. Alabama had scored four or fewer runs in each of its previous 11 games. The Crimson Tide's seven hits on the night were more than it had recorded in its previous two games of the regional combined.
"That felt like 20 runs," Murphy said with a laugh. "When you get that leadoff home run, that's huge. I really thought we were going to be on our way, but baby steps, I guess."
The Crimson Tide got its second run during the third inning as a squeeze bunt from Johnson scored Savannah Woodard, who slid in safe at home ahead of a throw from Chattanooga pitcher Brooke Parrott. Woodard then delivered Alabama’s third run in the fourth inning, driving in Ally Shipman on a sacrifice fly to right field. Shipman added another insurance run with an RBI single in the seventh.
Chattanooga scored its first run on a wild pitch from Torrence in the bottom of the fourth inning before Adison Keylon tacked on the second with a solo home run in the bottom of the seventh.