"It was a fun day," said Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy. "You couldn't have written a better script for the five seniors. It is like the Field of Dreams."
Senior pitcher Blair Potter pitched the best game of her two-year career at Alabama with a five-inning no-hitter. The Tide ended the game with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fifth. With senior Michelle Menningmann on third base, another senior Kellie Deska was called on to pinch hit and hit a high fly ball to right field to drive in the winning run. Senior outfielder Mandy Burford went 2-for-3 with her 10th home run of the season and Mallory Benak scored a run in a pinch run opportunity in the second inning.
UA improved to 50-4 on the season and 21-4 in Southeastern Conference competition. The Tide is also a remarkable 35-1 at home in 2007 and Bama is on a 17-game win streak. Coach Murphy reached the 50-win mark for the third straight season and fifth time in his nine-year career a Alabama's head coach. Kentucky dropped to 20-28 overall and 4-21 in conference play with the loss.
The series sweep over Kentucky set up the final series of the regular season for the Crimson Tide. Bama will battle number one-ranked Tennessee in Knoxville next weekend for a chance at the SEC Championship. Alabama, Tennessee and LSU are tied for first in the SEC with 21-4 conference records. The Tide and Lady Vols will play a doubleheader Saturday beginning at 1 p.m. EDT and conclude the series with a single game on Sunday at 1 p.m.
"Coach Murphy told me to go up there and win this game and Blair got a no-hitter so I couldn't be any more excited," said Deska. "The feeling that my teammates give me and the support they give me is incredible. The opportunity was amazing and I am just glad it worked out."
Potter, a native of Columbus, Ga., was absolutely brilliant on the mound in her final regular season start at the Alabama Softball Complex. After a groundout to start the game, Potter went on to strike out the next nine batters she faced. She held a perfect game until the top of the fifth with one out when a pitch inside got away from her and hit Molly Johnson. However, out of the 16 batters Potter faced, only one hit a ball out of the infield, a fly out to left field by Katie Campbell to start the fifth.
"I wasn't really thinking about the no-hitter," said Potter. "I was on the mound and kept hearing their coach say ‘break it up' but I didn't know what she was talking about. It is nice to go out there throwing and knowing you have a good defense behind you. With the offense it makes it easy going out there to throw because you know they are going to score runs for you."
The no-hitter was the 12th in school history. Potter became the seventh Tide pitcher to hurl a no-hitter. The senior starter improved to 16-0 on the season and 21-0 for her career at Alabama. She matched a career-high with 10 strikeouts. It was a career high that she set yesterday in a 6-0 victory over the Wildcats, only she pitched seven innings in that game.
"When we got to the park I was just going to flip a coin between Blair and Chrissy (Owens) for who was going to pitch," said Murphy. "I went with the kid who did a better job yesterday. She keeps topping her performances, which is what you want out of your senior pitcher. Save for a hit-by-pitch it was a perfect game. It was a great performance."
Leading 6-0 heading into the bottom of the fifth, Bama needed two runs to end the game due to an eight-run rule. Burford stepped up and nearly missed a home run that sailed to the left of the foul pole in left field. On the next pitch Burford didn't miss as the ball cleared the fence in left center to make it 7-0. The home run was the first in over a month for Burford but gave her 10 for the season, tying Kelley Montalvo for the team lead.
Menningmann then came up and drew a walk. She stole second base to get in scoring position and moved to third on a pinch hit single up the middle by Allison Moore. On came Deska and with a 2-2 count she sent one to the opposite field in right for a sacrifice fly as Menningmann tagged and slid into home plate for the final run of the game.
The seniors weren't the only stories of the day for the Crimson Tide. A two-run home run to center field by Jordan Praytor in the second inning and Burford's fifth inning shot brought Alabama to 73 home runs for the season, matching the school and SEC record for team home runs in a single season. The 1998 Alabama team also hit 73 to set the previous record.
"I am really excited for Blair because she pitched such a great game and has had a great season so we just wanted to end the game for her," said Burford. "We talked about the home run record at the beginning when we started off so strong but we haven't really talked about it lately. Our bats have been coming alive the last week."
Praytor went on to go 2-for-3 in the game with a run and two RBI while batting third in the lineup for the first time this season. Her home run was the sixth of the year for her and second of the series. Burford also had a RBI single with the bases loaded in the first inning to finish 2-for-3 with a run and two RBI.
In the second inning, Brittany Rogers reached base on an infield single. When she stole second base she broke the school record for stolen bases in a single season. It was her 44th swipe of the year, moving her past Kelly Kretschman who stole 43 bases in 2000.