The strong-in-the-circle week that was in Alabama softball
Cary L. Clark
Great pitching is tough to beat in college softball.
It doesn't take a lot work by the offense when you have an ace or three on the mound like Patrick Murphy’s Team 23 did Easter weekend in Gainesville.
It's how Alabama got a rare road sweep over a top-ranked team.
The now-healthy Montana Fouts got a win and a save in the series, but she had a lot of help, namely from Sarah Cornell and Krystal Goodman.
Friday night, Fouts was her usual dominant self in Game 1 of a doubleheader. During the 3-1 win she went the distance allowing one earned run on two hits while walking five and striking out five.
It was thought Fouts might be on a pitch count heading into that game as she was during last Monday’s win over Georgia, and Florida probably wishes she had been. The freshman righty threw 122 pitches, looking fully recovered from her injury (reportedly a hairline rib fracture) that caused her to be out three weeks.
Kaylee Tow and Bailey Hemphill had RBI-hits to support Fouts.
The second game wasn’t quite as competitive. Alabama triumphed 6-1 behind Cornell’s two-hit pitching that included nine strikeouts but an alarming eight walks.
Yet the Gators stranded all nine runners. When the Hofstra transfer needed to get outs, she got them, and improved to a lead-leading 18-1.
Cornell got plenty of offensive support in the nightcap. KB Sides had two hits as did Reagan Dykes, Maddie Morgan, Elissa Brown and Skylar Wallace. Wallace hit a solo home run while Hemphill added a two-run shot, her 20th of the year.
Sides was hot again Saturday to help lead Bama in a 3-0 win. She hit a mammoth home run to right field with a teammate on base.
“I like to leave a little surprise in that nine hole sometimes,” said Murphy, “and this year it’s KB.”
Last year’s junior college pitcher of the year Goodman used her change-up effectively as she started Saturday's series finale and went four shutout frames. Goodman struck out five Gator batters and issued just one walk.
Murphy brought in Fouts when Florida got the first batter on base in the fifth. The freshman right-hander went the final three innings for her fourth save. She walked one and struck out two while lowering her ERA to a microscopic 0.97.
Fouts was named a top-25 finalist for the Schutt Sports/NFCA Freshman of the Year Award last week.
The series win was Alabama’s (45-4-4, 14-3-4 SEC) 11th over Florida (37-12, 9-9 SEC) in the regular season and its seventh in Gainesville. It had not swept the Gators on the road since 2001.
The sweep will likely result in some changes in the national rankings. Coming in, Alabama was No. 5 (coaches) and No. 7 (EPSN/USA Softball), while Florida was No. 6 and No. 9, respectively.
Meanwhile, with LSU struggling against Arkansas, Alabama has extended its led stop the SEC with just two weeks remaining in the regular season. However, the Crimson Tide and Tigers will face each other in Baton Rouge during the final weekend.
Alabama 14-4 .778 45-4 .918 W7
LSU 14-7 .667 37-11 .771 W1
Ole Miss 11-6 .647 33-12 .733 W1
Tennessee 11-7 .611 34-10 .773 L1
Missouri 10-8 .556 27-18 .600 W4
Kentucky 11-9 .550 28-18 .609 W2
Next up, Alabama travels to Cullman, Ala., for a neutral-site contest Tuesday, April 23 at 6 p.m. CT against Belmont at Heritage Park.
Cullman is home to junior shortstop Claire Jenkins.
SEC play resumes Friday when the Crimson Tide hosts Kentucky at 6:30 p.m. CT. The two will meet Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. There will be no broadcast TV for that series though all three games will be available via the internet.