Revenge is just a little bit sweeter in Oklahoma City.
Backed into a win-or-go-home elimination game Saturday following Thursday night's loss to top-seeded Oklahoma, No. 8 seed Alabama brought out the big bats and kept its Women’s College World Series hopes alive with a 15-3 run-rule win over SEC rival and fifth-seeded Florida on Saturday in Oklahoma City.
“They got us in the SEC Championship, it was a tough loss for us, so we knew coming in that this was for the season, for us to keep fighting on,” Tide junior slugger Bailey Hemphill said after the game. “So we decided to take it one game at a time, and it was a little bit of revenge, I guess.”
After the rout, Alabama went with Fouts – freshman ace Montana Fouts, who pitched a three-hit shutout in a 2-0 victory over Arizona that sent the Crimson Tide into Sunday’s semifinals.
Alabama (59-9) advances to face No. 1 Oklahoma (56-3), which edged the Crimson Tide 3-2 in their opening round matchup Thursday night, in a WCWS national semifinal rematch at 2:30 p.m. CT. The Crimson Tide Alabama will have to beat the Sooners twice. On the other side of the bracket, Washington will have to beat UCLA twice to reach the best-of-three championship series, which starts Monday.
Alabama 15, Florida 3: The outcome was especially sweet for an Alabama squad that swept rival Florida in Gainesville during SEC play in late April en route to claiming the conference regular-season crown, but lost a 2-1 heartbreaker to the Gators in the SEC Tournament championship game May 11 in College Station, Texas.
“For me, it was just about finishing the SEC right,” Tide senior Merris Schroder said. “Because we had such a good SEC season and then in the championship game in the tournament, obviously we didn’t come out on top. So for me it was just finishing the last SEC opponent on a high note.”
Following a nearly four-hour delay as threatening weather rolled through Oklahoma City midday, the Crimson Tide found its power stroke early with a pair of first-inning three-run home runs by sophomore Kaylee Tow and Schroder for a commanding 6-0 lead through one inning. Schroder’s two-out shot to left sent Gators senior ace Kelly Barnhill to the locker room after just two-thirds of an inning. Barnhill later returned to the circle briefly for a two-out curtain call in the bottom of the fourth inning with Alabama leading 11-0.
The Tide’s clutch two-out hitting continued a couple of innings later when Alabama rolled up four runs in the bottom of the third on back-to-back-to-back hits. The first run came courtesy of a wild pitch that allowed pinch-runner Kloyee Anderson to slide home from third.
Sophomore leadoff KB Sides followed with a single to center that scored Elissa Brown from third, and Hemphill singled through the left side and plated Sides after a throwing error at third base. Tow then capped the inning with a double to the wall in center that scored Hemphill from second base for a 10-0 lead after three innings.
Hemphill added to her tally in a big way with a two-out, three-run home run in the bottom of the fourth to give Alabama a stunning 15-0 lead. Hemphill's home run cemented her as the program’s single-season record holder in both home runs (26) and RBIs (82), surpassing legend Kelly Kretchsman and former teammate Marisa Runyon in the record book respectively.
“I didn’t know I’d hit it over, kinda got jammed a little bit, but it’s just an honor to be talked about with Kelly Kretchsman in the same sentence,” Hemphill said. “It's pretty cool.”
Sides led the Tide’s 12-hit attack, going 3-for-3 with two runs scored. Hemphill and Tow were each 2-for-3 with a combined seven RBIs and four runs scored. Brown and senior Reagan Dykes, who started the five-run fourth inning with a RBI double, each had two hits.
“Tow and KB just did not do well the first night (against Oklahoma). It was their first time here and I’m sure they were both nervous,” Murphy said. “KB had three Ks leading off and I think both of them wanted a little redemption.”
Tide junior pitcher Sarah Cornell (22-1) did her part on the mound, scattering four hits over first four innings before surrendering a one-out solo home run to Florida’s Kendyl Lindaman and a two-out, two-run shot to Sophia Reynoso in a three-run fifth during her complete-game effort.
Alabama 2, Arizona 0: The eighth-seeded Tide didn’t beat midnight, but it did defeat the Wildcats late Saturday night to make sure it saw another day.
Fouts (20-6) bounced back from Thursday night's hard-luck loss to Oklahoma to shut down Arizona (48-13) over seven innings, notching nine strikeouts in the three-hitter.
The way Fouts was pitching, offense was at a premium, but the Tide got all it needed in the top of the third with another clutch two-out effort. After No. 9 hitter Elissa Brown reached on a fielder's choice and subsequently stole second, leadoff hitter Sides walked ahead of Hemphill, who wasted little time delivering with a two-RBI double to left-center on an 0-1 count to plate an early 2-0 advantage.
Those were Hemphill’s fourth and fifth RBI of the day to raise her season RBI total to 84.
Arizona gave Fouts a scare when it loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the fourth, but a strikeout and a threat-ending defensive stab by first baseman Hemphill on a sharp liner to the right side kept Alabama on top.
The Tide previously knocked off the Wildcats, 6-1, in a non-conference meeting Feb. 16 at the Arizona-hosted Hillenbrand Invitational in Tucson, when Fouts allowed one run on six hits in the complete-game effort for her fourth win of the season.
Alabama earned revenge on Florida. It wants even more later Sunday against the Sooners.