Hardcore softball fans knew coming in that Saturday’s NCAA second round regional pairing between Alabama and Minnesota would be a pitcher’s duel. Suffice it to say, the Golden Gophers Sara Groenewegen (30-3) and the Crimson Tide’s Alexis Osorio did not disappoint. Final: Alabama 1, Gophers 0, on a bases-loaded, walk-off ninth inning walk drawn by catcher Reagan Dykes.
“I know how to be very calm and very patient,” Dykes said. “The first two pitches ended up being balls. It was 3-1, and Murphy (Bama Coach Patrick Murphy) gave me the take one more time. (The pitch) was close, and I’ve seen those called both ways.
“Today we were just like, ‘Hey Lex (Alexis Osorio), we’ve got your back.’ I could see the look in her eyes that she wants the ball, and she’s going to get the job done. We just had to do what Alabama softball does, and that’s get a run across. We have been in those situations a lot this year. Lexi has put us on her back a lot this year, and it was our turn to pay her back.”
“Man, that was one heck of a good game,” said Coach Murphy. “It was pitch-by-pitch and batter-by-batter. Osorio shut them down. She pitched a no-hitter through seven against the number one team in the country.
“I just felt like Groenewegen was going to get a little wild right there (in the ninth).”
Added Gophers Coach Jessica Allister: “It was a great softball game. Great play on both sides of the ball. Sara pitched her guts out, and (Osorio, now 22-7) was unbelievable. You’re not going to find two better pitchers. We leave eight runners on base. Throughout the course of the game, it doesn’t come down to one pitch.”
Osorio gave up just two hits over nine shutout innings with 11 strikeouts.
(The decisive pitch was very close, at the knees and right near the corner, and could have been called either way. Home plate umpire Brad Newton simply felt it didn’t get the plate.)
Sam Macken walked on a full count to start the Gophers’ first inning. Unfazed, Osorio turned to her renowned rise ball to strike out the side.
Making her first start since early April, second sacker Demi Turner got a standing ovation from the crowd of 1,517 and singled for the game’s first hit with two gone in the third and stole second. Elissa Brown fouled out to third to quell the rally.
“I was excited to be out there with the team again, and be able to contribute,” Turner said. “I just wanted to do all I could for Lex (Osorio).”
Gophers freshman catcher Kendyl Lindaman, who came in with an on-base percentage of .609, walked to open the top of the seventh. She was replaced by pinch-runner Kaylen Krueger, who advanced to second on a grounder by Maddie Houlihan. One out later, Sydney Dwyer took first on a hit by pitch. Groenewegen, a rare hitting pitcher, fouled out to third to end the threat.
Senior right fielder Chandler Dare was robbed of a hit to open the Tide seventh on a diving catch by left fielder Macken. Senior designated player Marisa Runyon flew out to deep right for the second time in the game, and freshmen Bailey Hemphill singled up the middle with two gone for Bama’s second safety. After Mari Cranek ran for Hemphill and stole second, catcher Dykes lined out to right to send the game to extras.
At this point, the Tide had out-hit the visitors two-zip, but no runs had crossed for either side.
That hit total changed when Dani Wagner singled up the middle to open the eighth, and Allie Arneson walked on a full count after fouling off at least a half-dozen two-strike Osorio pitches. Macken popped to third, Danielle Parlich grounded to short to advance both runners, and Lindaman was intentionally passed to load the bases. Houlihan then grounded sharply to Hemphill at first on a 3-2 offering.
Groenewegen doubled with two gone in the ninth, and Ellie Cowger ran for her at second. Wagner then took strike three looking.
Turner (2-for-3) slapped a chopper to second and beat it out to start the Tide’s decisive ninth. She was forced out at second when she had to wait to see if Brown’s bunt attempt would be caught in the air. Dare singled, and the Tide had a threat going. Runyon was hit by a pitch to load the bases, and Hemphill fouled out to third. With two gone, Dykes got ahead 3-0, took a strike and drew likely the biggest free pass of her career.
Alabama (44-16) will face the winner of Saturday afternoon’s Minnesota/Louisiana Tech game Sunday at 1:30 Central Time (tentatively, as weather could be a factor). Bama needs to win one game, but if it loses the opener a nightcap will be required to advance to next weekend’s Super Regionals, likely in Gainesville, Fla., home of the second-ranked (coaches poll) Gators.
“It’s not going to be an easy road, obviously,” Turner said.
Murphy said he would decide Sunday on whether to start Osorio (180 pitches) in game one. “She’s probably going to get in the cold tub right now,” he said. “Everybody probably is.”