Every softball team in America wants to make it to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, and Alabama has done that five times in the last six years. But that doesn’t soothe Crimson Tide feelings after Bama played two sub-par games and exited the tournament after two games.
Alabama softball ended its 2016 season with a hard-fought game against LSU, falling 6-4 with a late rally coming just short in the final innings. A day before the Tide had fallen into the losers bracket with a heart-breaking extra innings loss to Oklahoma.
Alabama (51-14) fell behind early as LSU (51-17) built a 6-1 lead, but a three-run sixth inning cut the deficit to two runs. Following a 1-2-3 top of the seventh, the Crimson Tide brought the potential tying run to the plate but a double play ended the rally and, with it, Alabama’s season.
“There was a lot of fight and a lot of grit,” Alabama Coach Patrick Murphy said. “If we had one more hit in the bottom of the sixth or with the bases loaded earlier in the game, it’s a different story. Carley [Hoover] made some great pitches and so did Alli [Walljasper]. The pitch to end it was a nice jam pitch, so you have to give LSU credit.”
This year marked the Tide’s 11th appearance at the Women’s College World Series, including five of the last six seasons and a streak of three straight. The 51 wins marks the 12th 50-win season in program history, including 10 of the last 12 years.
Alabama senior Haylie McCleney went 2-3 in the game, ending her four-year career with a school-record .447 batting average and .569 on-base percentage. Fellow senior Leona Lafaele went 2-3 with two RBIs, including a solo home run. Alabama starter Sydney Littlejohn (23-7) took the loss, throwing 4 2/3 innings while freshman Madi Moore pitched 2 1/3 relief innings in the middle of the game. LSU starter Carley Hoover (21-8) earned the win while Allie Walljasper notched her third save of the season.
“It was an unfortunate outcome,” McCleney said. “We did put ourselves in what we thought was a good position. We got people on base but we just couldn’t get them in early in the game like we needed to. You can’t say this team didn’t’ fight. You don’t have to win a championship to be a champion because I have 18 champions back in that locker room.”
LSU opened the game with leadoff hitter Sandra Simmons pulling a solo home run down the right field line to make it 1-0 in the top of the first. The Tigers continued to apply pressure, loading the bases with two out, but a strikeout got the Tide out of the jam and limited the damage to one run.
In the top of the third, Bianka Bell led off the inning with a single to center field before advancing all the way to third base on a sacrifice bunt. Kellsi Kloss drove her in with an RBI groundout to make it 2-0.
In the bottom half of the second, a pair of base hits and a walk loaded the bases for Lafaele, who dropped a single into shallow left to move everyone up 60 feet and cut the deficit to 2-1. A double play ended the inning.
With one out in the top of the fourth, LSU put a pair in scoring position with a single and a double as Alabama turned to Moore to pitch in relief. An RBI single by Simmons brought one home and a wild pitch added another as the Tigers’ lead stretched to 4-1. Sahvanna Jaquish tagged on two more with a two-run double to put Bama in a 6-1 hole.
The score remained the same until Lafaele led off the bottom of the sixth with a solo home run to cut the deficit to 6-2. Following a hit-by-pitch and a fielding error, Chandler Dare roped an RBI single over the leaping second baseman’s glove to make it a 6-3 game as LSU turned to its bullpen with Walljasper entering to pitch. An infield single loaded the bases and, following a force out at home, an infield error allowed another run to cross to make it 6-4.
LSU went down in order in the top of the seventh and Alabama would bring the potential tying run to the plate in the bottom half but a double play ended the game and Alabama’s season.