TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — With its back against the wall in game one against Stanford, Alabama softball pulled through with a win to force a winner take all game at Rhoads Stadium.
However, the Crimson Tide was not able to carry that momentum over into the next game against the Cardinal, and a slumping offense that flashed some potential Saturday night and Sunday morning, once again slipped back into oblivion.
Stanford bounced back Sunday afternoon to beat No. 6 Alabama 6-0, ending Alabama's season and snapping one of the most impressive streaks in college softball. For the first time since Super Regionals were implemented in 2005, the Crimson Tide will not be represented.
It was another scoreless pitcher's duel through five innings, and Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy was feeling confident heading into the sixth inning in a 0-0 game.
"It feels like we’re gonna do it," Murph said. "We’re the home team. We’ve got the home crowd, and I thought Montana [Fouts] was pitching great."
With Montana Fouts in the circle for the second straight game and fifth time this weekend, the offense provided Fouts no run support for the third time in her last four starts. On the weekend, Fouts threw 406 pitches over 23.1 innings.
"Talk about gritty, tough and amazing," said Stanford head coach Jessica Allister. "What a phenomenal performance. Still throwing 72 the last inning there after throwing however much— just tough and gritty and competitive. I couldn't be more impressed with her as a competitor."
With Lexi Kilfoyl unavailable for the last month of the season (her last appearance was on May 23), Fouts had to shoulder the majority of the load over that stretch. There was no question who would get the ball for the Crimson Tide in the weekend's finale.
"The first game, we were cleaning out the dugout, and she comes over and looks at me and says, ‘I’m ready to go. Whatever you want to do, I'm ready to go,'" Murphy said. "And you’ve just got to love a kid like that."
The Cardinal could not get anything going against Fouts for 12 straight innings on Sunday between the two games. Stanford finally broke through in the top of the sixth on an RBI-double from Aly Kaneshiro to make it 2-0.
"I thought one run might do it either way, and unfortunately they got the two runs first," Murphy said.
Things started to unravel further in the seventh when Stanford opened the inning with back to back hits. An intentional walk loaded the bases, and a single up the middle from Sydnee Huff cleared the bases after a throwing error pushed the Stanford lead to 5-0. Alex Salter came in to relive Fouts and gave up the final run to make it 6-0.
Fouts finished the season with a 25-8 record and 2.25 ERA and will be returning for a fifth-season next year.
Alana Vawter earned the win in the circle for Stanford with seven innings of shutout ball. She got roughed up in game one on Sunday when she gave up all four earned runs in relief as part of the Crimson Tide's big sixth inning.
She was able to wipe the tough outing from her memory and lock back in to deliver a performance nearly identical to her seven-inning shutout on Saturday.
"In game two, she started throwing the changeup more obviously, so it was a little bit different of an approach," said Alabama first baseman Kaylee Tow. "I mean kudos to them, their pitching coach, for keeping us off balance and finding a way to win in the second game."
Tow, Alabama's lone graduating senior, had an RBI-hit in game one, but went 0-3 in the season finale. Even though her fifth year didn't go quite as planned, Tow said she has no regrets for her Crimson Tide career.
"I gave my whole heart to this program," Tow said. "I wasn’t able to put together the best season this past year, but it is what it is. I promise you, I gave it my whole heart."
Alabama got the leadoff runner on in four different innings, but did not ever score. The Crimson Tide only had two hits in the game until Jenna Lord and Abby Doerr singled in the seventh.
In the postgame, Murphy highlighted the freshman Lord as one of the bright spots in the season and the way she developed in the lineup as the year went on.
The Crimson Tide offense barely averaged over two runs a game over the final month of the season with most of the players in the lineup slumping. The wins over Chattanooga and Stanford seemed like things might start clicking again, but Vawter kept Alabama stumped at the plate.
"You try to do everything possible," Murphy said. "You think of pat on the back, you think of anything and everything to try and help them out of it. And it stinks because I feel helpless as a coach, as a person. It comes to a point where you say, ‘I don’t know what else to do for her,’ and it’s very helpless."
Alabama finishes the season at 44-13 and will miss the Women's College World Series for the first time since 2018.