Runyon Leads Tide Softball Past Vols

Needing a series clinching victory to improve its post season status in several areas, the fifth-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide softball team got it Saturday, posting a 10-3 home win over No. 11 Tennessee. A season largest crowd of 3,940 (Rhoads Stadium’s capacity) was on hand to witness the contest, and most stuck it out through a nearly one-hour weather delay.

“Up and down the lineup, I thought it was a fun day,” said Alabama Coach Patrick Murphy. “It’s definitely a good series win. We were No. 5 in the RPI coming in and they were No. 10. It’s probably not going to move much.”

The series win could help in RPI, which helps determine Regional and Super Regional hosts, and the SEC Tourney, where being one of the top four seeds means a first round bye in Baton Rouge in two weeks. Alabama now has the tie-breaker over Tennessee there.

Sophomore third baseman Marisa “Home” Runyon had three hits and seven RBI’s on the day, including a pair of two-run homers. “The ball looks like a beach ball right now,” she said. “I wanted to come out and make a statement the last game (of the series). I was trying to see pitches to hit. It did feel pretty good.”

Murphy added,” She does that all the time in practice. It’s so much fun for a coach to see a kid take what she does in practice and bring it to a game.”

With two gone in the home half of the first, senior right fielder Jadyn Spencer doubled to right center. Runyon then blasted a two-run shot – also to right center—to give the Tide (38-11, 14-7SEC) an early 2-run lead.

Tennessee (36-13, 12-9) had two runners on with two down in the third, and right fielder Rainey Gaffin hit a grounder off second baseman Kallie Case’s glove to score Tory Lewis and cut the lead in half. With runners on the corners, starter Alexis Osorio (15-7) walked shortstop Meghan Gregg to load the bases. Gretchen Aucoin found Case’s glove on a grounder, but the junior made the play this time, tagging second for the fielder’s choice and inning-ender. Case started in place of freshman Demi Turner, who sat out with a sore ankle but is expected back in the lineup next weekend.

Spencer walked to open the Tide fourth, and Runyon struck again, this time to dead center with a no-doubter for her 14th round-tripper of the year. That shot put Alabama up 4-1 and Vols Coach Ralph Weekly moved Gaffin from right field to pitcher. Hays greeted her with a hard shot off the glove of third baseman Scarlet McSwain for a single. Senior catcher Chauncey Bell singled up the middle, and freshman pinch-runner Kayla Retting replaced her on first. After first baseman Leona Lafaele walked to load the bases, Case went down swinging for the first out. Chandler Dare grounded into a force that scored Hays. Dare took second on a wild pitch before pinch-hitter Andrea Hawkins singled up the middle plating Lafaele, but Dare was thrown out at home by center fielder Lewis. After four, Alabama led 6-1.

Tennessee mounted a threat of its own in the fifth, putting two runners on with one out. Gregg walked to load the bases, and Aucoin got an RBI on an infield hit. Catcher Annie Aldrete then flew to Dare in foul ground, and a strong throw kept Gaffin at third. With two down and the sacks still full, first baseman Taylor Koenig walked to plate another run, with lightning flashing in the distant west.

Needing one more out for an official game, Murphy sent in senior Leslie Jury to try and stop the bleeding. Before Jury could throw a pitch, the umpires cleared the field for a minimum 30-minute lightning delay.

There was a brief rain, but the tarp was not deployed. Play resumed 57 minutes later, with the bases still loaded and left fielder Shaliyah Geathers in the box against Jury. The senior righty used a variety of pitches to strike Geathers out on five throws, and escape the jam. Alabama took a 6-3 lead to the bottom of the fifth.

All-America center fielder Haylie McCleney reached base for the 11th straight game when she opened the Tide fifth with a single. The red-hot Spencer doubled over third to give Bama two in scoring position with no outs. Runyon drove in her fifth run of the game with a grounder to second, sending Spencer to third. Weekly brought in Cheyanne Tarango to pitch to Hays, who missed a bunt attempt on a suicide squeeze causing Spencer to be tagged out before reaching the plate. Hays walked on a 3-2 change up, and Bell doubled down the left field line to give the Tide two in scoring position again. Lafaele missed all three off-speed pitches she saw to end the inning. After five, the Tide led 7-3.

The sun made a rare appearance in the sixth. Jury allowed a two-out infield hit off her own glove to Megan Geer before Gaffin flew to left to end the frame.

Case tripled to lead off the Alabama sixth. Dare grounded to short, and Case held third. Hawkins drilled her second RBI single of the day up the middle scoring case. With Hawkins running, McCleney reached on an infield hit to bring up Spencer, who walked to load the bases for Runyon. The sophomore greeted Erin Gabriel, who re-entered to face her, with a 2-RBI double.

With the run-rule game-winning marker at third, pinch-hitter Carrigan “Crash” Fain hit for Hays, and the freshman battled to a 3-2 count before going down swinging. Bell then popped to short center. The Vols were not run-ruled, but needed a big rally as the game moved to the seventh with Alabama up 10-3.

Jury stayed on the hill and picked up her third save by retiring three of the five hitters she faced in the final inning. With two down, Jury walked Aldrete and Koenig before Geathers grounded to first to end matters.

Runyon became the second Tide player to post three multi-homer games in the same season. The first was All-America/Olympian Kelly Kretschman in 1998. Alabama wore its pink jerseys and leggings in honor of the Power of Pink battle against breast cancer. The game was the Tide’s final official home contest of the year, though it should be a leading contender for hosting both a Regional and a Super Regional.

Next up for Murphy’s club is a three-game road series at Arkansas beginning Friday. The Hogs are the league’s last-place team with only one SEC win.

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