Coming into Sunday’s NCAA Regional Final against top-ranked Minnesota, Alabama senior pitcher Sydney Littlejohn didn’t have a win this season against a ranked opponent. That changed Sunday, as she pitched Alabama into its 13th straight NCAA Softball Super Regional. In two days and 16 innings, the top-ranked Gophers (Coaches’ Poll) did not scratch against the Tide pitching staff, and for the second straight day, Alabama won 1-0.
“We’ve got a saying in our locker room: ‘Timid Sucks,’” said Minnesota Coach Jessica Allister. “We were being too timid against (Littlejohn).”
Tide Coach Patrick Murphy chose to credit his starter, Littlejohn (17-8) “Awesome. Every single start she’s given us a start to win, and that’s why she was out there today.”
Alabama is the only team in America to advance to a Super Regional every year since the format came into play for the 2005 season.
Bama (45-16) got on the board first in the top of the first inning. (The Tide was designated the visiting team in its home stadium.) With one out, senior Chandler Dare blooped a single into right. Veteran Marisa Runyon then laced a double toward the left center field gap, and the speedy Dare motored all the way around from first to plate a rare run against Gophers ace Sara Groenewegen , who had two losses all year before the weekend. She left with four.
“To beat her twice was an incredible feat for us. That kid is unbelievable,” Murphy said.
Coming into the game, Alabama was 23-1 when scoring in the first inning. “We just really wanted to attack first,” Runyon said.
The Gophers threatened when McKenna Partain singled with one down in the second, but Littlejohn induced a double-play grounder from Sydney Dwyer to end the frame.
In the third, Littlejohn struck out the side. For the afternoon, her line read 5 1/3 innings, five hits, no runs, one walk, and four strikeouts.
Minnesota put runners on second and third with two gone in the fourth, but Littlejohn wriggled off the hook when she got Partain to ground to first.
Shortstop Sydney Booker singled to lead off the Tide fifth. An out later, Elissa Brown reached when Groenewegen threw wildly to second while trying to get a force out. After Dare went down swinging, Runyon did the same, After 4 1/2 innings, Bama still clung to its 1-0 lead.
Second-time starter Rachel Bobo had a web gem in left field to end the fifth. She raced into foul ground and dove to catch a ball off the bat of Allie Arneson in an inning where the Gophers left a runner on first. “What you don’t know is, (Bobo) does that all the time in practice,” Littlejohn said. “The defense was great. Amazing.”
Hemphill laced a single to right center to open the Tide sixth, but pinch-runner Mari Cranek was forced at second when Reagan Dykes bunted a bit too hard. With two gone, third baseman Peyton Grantham popped to short to close the inning.
When Minnesota put two on with one down in the sixth, Murphy brought in his ace. Alexis Osorio got out of the inning by getting force out grounders by Maddie Houlihan to Demi Turner at second and Partain to Booker at short, who stepped on second to retire the side.
In the seventh, Osorio was even more dominant. She got a popup to short and a pair of Ks to earn her fourth save. She retired all five batters she faced.
Next up for the Tide: Gainesville, Florida, home to the other top-ranked team, SEC regular season champ Florida. The Gators had to play an “if necessary” game Sunday at home against Oklahoma State, but won it 5-0 and will host an All-SEC Super Regional later this week. Dates and times are to be announced.