Alabama Softball Hosts Devilettes

Casual Alabama fans may look at Alabama's softball schedule having Mississippi Valley State in Tuscaloosa Tuesday night and think about how the Crimson Tide baseball team routed the Delta Devils baseball team with three shutouts last weekend. The Mississippi Valley State softball team, though, is the defending SWAC champions.

Alabama, though, is one of the best teams in the nation. And, as journalists are wont to say, in the interest of full disclosure, Mississippi Valley State is only 2-17 this year. The Crimson Tide is 20-4 after sweeping South Carolina in three games to open Southeastern Conference play last weekend.

Alabama hosts Mississippi Valley State at 6 p.m. CDT Tuesday in Rhoads Stadium.

The game is another opportunity for Haylie McCleney to move up the ladder as one of college softball's finest players. McCleney, a sophomore with 252 career at-bats, now meets the minimum qualifications to be included in the NCAA Record Book for career averages. With a career average of .484, she would rank third in NCAA history, only trailing Stacy Cowen (.530, 1991-92, Manhattan) and Kelly Knight (.489, 1993-95, Deleware State) in the all-time rankings. At her current pace, she is set to finish her career with around 360 hits, which would rank eighth in NCAA history. Her season average of .537 this year would rank eighth in the all-time NCAA single season rankings.

Mississippi Valley State has been a SWAC powerhouse over the last ten years, winning eight of the last 10 tournament titles including last season with a convincing 11-3 win over Alabama State. So far this season, the Devilettes only own two wins over a tough preseason slate, having beat Northern Kentucky and Miles College. The pitching staff has been hit hard, owning a 12.50 team ERA with 137 earned runs allowed over 98.2 innings with opponents hitting .379 against them. Junior outfielder Omeshia Moffett is the team's leader on offense, starting all 19 games with a .292 average, 14 hits and three RBI. Freshman infielder Deja Talton owns the team's lone home run and has driven in a team-leading six RBI.

Alabama owns a perfect 9-0 all-time record against Mississippi Valley State, including three matchups in the NCAA Regional Tuscaloosa Regional round in 2005, 2006 and 2010. The Tide has won by an average margin of just over six runs in those nine meetings, with four ending in a run-rule victory. Last season's contest in Tuscaloosa was a tight affair, with Alabama winning by its slimmest-ever margin over the Devilettes, 8-5. The game was tied at 3-3 heading into the bottom of the fifth, when doubles by Molly Fichtner, Jadyn Spencer, and Ryan Iamurri gave Alabama four runs to pull ahead 7-3. Leading 8-3 in the final inning, a two-run homer drew the Devilettes within three but Leslie Jury regrouped on the mound and forced a popup and groundout to end the game.

Alabama started its SEC season on a strong note, sweeping South Carolina last weekend in Tuscaloosa. The bats came alive for a convincing 14-4 six-inning win on Friday, with Kaila Hunt driving in a career-high five RBI including a walk-off three run homer in the sixth inning. The offense stayed hot in game two, using a six-run third inning to help propel the Tide to a 10-5 victory, which secured the series. Sydney Littlejohn pitched a stellar relief outing, earning the win thanks to 3.2 hitless shutout innings, with just one walked batter as the only baserunner. Alabama was cruising towards another win in game three on Sunday, but a resilient Gamecock squad threatened late, loading the bases with nobody out in the seventh inning, which brought the potential go-ahead run to the plate. Littlejohn showed great poise, entering in the tough save situation as two runs crossed the plate but the potential tying run was stranded 60 feet away, as she earned the save to secure the weekend sweep.

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