Alabama Defeats Arizona State in Back-and-Forth Slugfest to Punch its 15th-Straight Super Regional Ticket
Sunday’s regional finale between Alabama and Arizona State was a battle to the very end, as the Crimson Tide rallied from an early five-run deficit only to see the Sun Devils come back and tie it before some seventh-inning heroics ultimately pushed Alabama in front, 9-8, to secure its 15th-straight trip to the NCAA Super Regionals.
“That was an instant classic in my mind,” UA head coach Patrick Murphy said. “It was a great game for our fans, TV and everybody.”
The victory gives Alabama (55-7) 40-straight wins in the regional round and extended its streak as the only team to qualify for every super regional since the round’s inception in 2005. As the No. 8 seed, the Tide will host the winner of the Austin regional, either Texas or Houston, in Tuscaloosa. Game dates, times and TV designations will be announced later.
Arizona State (35-20) jumped to an early five-run lead before the Tide came storming back to score eight unanswered. A three-run sixth for the Sun Devils tied it back up at 8-8 before an RBI single from sophomore KB Sides in the top of the seventh put Alabama back ahead, 9-8. Arizona State would put the potential go-ahead run on base in the bottom of the seventh, but Alabama ultimately held on to win.
“At one point, we had nine outs on weak popups,” Murphy said. “In the fifth inning, we were determined to do something different. We felt good with the three-run lead but knew Arizona State wouldn’t quit. They came back to tied and we answered back with a run in the seventh.
“This is a very resilient group.”
Sides was one of three players to earn three hits in the game, joined by juniors Elissa Brown and Bailey Hemphill. Hemphill drove in five RBIs, including a game-tying grand slam in the top of the fifth. She is now two shy of Kelly Kretschman’s single-season home run record and has 76 RBIs, good for fourth. She has also reached base safely in 34-straight games, which is tied for the third-longest streak at UA and one shy of Jordan Praytor’s second-place mark from the 2006 season.
Alabama used three pitchers in the circle, with freshman Montana Fouts (17-4) ultimately coming away with the win after pitching the final 1.1 innings.
In the bottom of the second, back-to-back walks and a single would load the bases for Arizona State with one out. A huge strikeout went for out number two before a fly ball to center on a full count ended the threat with the game still scoreless.
The Sun Devils started the bottom of the third with back-to-back singles before a great throw from senior Reagan Dykes to freshman Skylar Wallace covering second caught the lead runner off the bag for out number one. A fly ball to left went for out number two before Jade Gortarez sent one over the left-field wall to give Arizona State the 2-0 lead.
Arizona State threatened again in the bottom of the fourth, getting two on with one out. A diving stop by junior Claire Jenkins on a ground ball up the middle and a quick flip to Wallace got the force out at second for out number two but a three-run homer in the next at-bat extended the Sun Devils’ lead to 5-0. Junior Krystal Goodman entered to pitch in relief and, after a hit-by-pitch and walk, got a strikeout to end the inning.
With one out in the top of the fifth, senior Merris Schroder put the Tide on the board with a no-doubt solo home run into right field. Brown followed that with her third hit of the day and Sides just beat out an infield single to put two on with one out. Sophomore Kaylee Tow battled through a nine-pitch at bat to load the bases and set up Hemphill for a game-tying grand slam. After a pitching change, Wallace drew a walk and Dykes laced a double into left to put two in scoring position with one out. A popup and fly ball left them stranded to end the half-inning with the teams tied at 5-5.
After retiring Arizona State in order in the bottom of the fifth, a one-out walk to Brown and a single from Sides put two on base for Alabama in the top of the sixth. Tow dropped a single down the left-field line, deep enough for Brown to hustle in from second and score to give the Tide a 6-5 lead. Hemphill ripped a hard shot past off the third baseman’s glove, bouncing into foul territory as Sides rounded third to score on the RBI single and make it 7-5. A throwing error on the play moved both runners into scoring position and a groundout up the middle allowed another run to cross and make it 8-5.
The Sun Devils drew a walk to start the bottom of the sixth, but a hard liner in the next at-bat found the glove of a leaping sophomore Maddie Morgan at third, who quickly fired to first to complete the 5-3 double play. After a two-out walk, Fouts entered to pitch in the save situation but gave up back-to-back walks to the first two batters to load the bases. A single up the middle scored one and a fielding error on the play allowed another to come home and make it a one-run ballgame. An RBI single in the next at-bat tied it at 8-8 before a popup ended the inning.
With two outs in the top of the seventh, Schroder drew a walk and stole second to put the potential go-ahead run in scoring position. Brown drew a walk behind her to put two on base and Sides dropped a single into left as Schroder hustled around third and slid home to put the Tide ahead, 9-8.
“The home field advantage starts with the fans,” Murphy said. “They make this the toughest place to play. The players are resilient and you saw that today. This is a tradition and we’re going to make this the toughest place to play in the postseason.”
With Arizona State down to its final three outs in the bottom of the seventh, a heavy rain started to fall. After a leadoff single from the Sun Devils, the teams cleared the field as the game went into a rain delay. The teams were off the field for less than 10 minutes before play resumed. A lineout and fly ball quickly brought Arizona State down to its final out before a single put runners on first and second. Morgan fielded a hard line drive to end the game and send Alabama to the super regional round.
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