Defense Helps Tide Take NCAA Regional

When the "if necessary" game is not necessary, that's a good thing if you're the home team and the only unbeaten squad in a softball tournament. Such was the case when national fourth seed Alabama corralled the Texas Longhorns, 7-0, to advance to the Super Regional round next weekend. Bama will.



And the Tide (50-9) set an NCAA record in the process.

"I think that‘s the first time in my career here where the fans wanted the game to go seven innings," said Alabama Coach Patrick Murphy. "They wanted us to keep going out and playing defense."

Murphy's team won its 50th game for the fifth consecutive year.

Added winning pitcher Charlotte Morgan, "I have full confidence in my defense. I never, ever got stressed when a runner got on. I knew my defense was behind me.

"One thing I love about being a pitcher and a hitter is you're able to come back and help the team on offense."

Murphy decided to go with rested pitcher Morgan, and the junior lefty came through both in the pitcher's circle and the batter's box. She went the distance (seven innings) and gave up seven hits, with two strikeouts and no walks. Thing was, five of those seven hits were erased via the double play.

Morgan got a lot of help from her friends. Bama turned inning-inning double plays to end five of the first six frames. Those type things can break an opponent's spirit. It didn't help that the PA announcer told the crowd that the five twin-killings set an NCAA record.

"It seemed like (the movie) ‘Groundhog Day,'" said Murphy. "It was weird."

"I was wondering if (President Barack) Obama was going to come out here," joked third baseman Kelley Montalvo.

"We don't get down on that. They played some good defense, and they got some double plays out of us hitting the ball hard," said Longhorns catcher Amy Hooks.

"To ground into double plays like that, it really takes the air out of you. They were very good defensively" said Texas coach Connie Clark. "It's a tough regional to play in. I think (Alabama) will be one of the top favorites in the World Series.

"Alabama is one of the best offenses we have seen this year."

The Bama offense was, as usual, more than adequate. Morgan and shortstop Kellie Eubanks drove in two runs each, and Brittany Rogers had three hits. Eubanks and third baseman Kelley Montalvo had two hits each.

Morgan, the SEC's Player of the Year, upped her record in the circle to 17-6, and her batting average is a team-leading .412.

After weather caused the originally-scheduled 1:30 game to start at 4 p.m., Rogers doubled down the left field line to lead off the bottom of the first, but was gunned down attempting to steal third. With two out, Montalvo singled through the left side, and SEC Player of the Year Morgan cranked a 2-2 pitch from Erin Tresselt out of the park in right center for a 2-0 Tide lead.

That score stood until Cassie Reilly-Boccia smacked a Tressell offering over the center field wall to lead off the bottom of the fourth.

"I kind of guessed ‘out' and she ended up throwing it there," said Reilly-Boccia.

Exit Tresselt, and enter ‘Horns ace Brittany Barnhill.

After Amanda Locke walked, Murphy sent in pinch-runner Jen Fenton, who stole second. Whitney Larsen singled to drive in Fenton for a 4-0 Tide lead.

Montalvo and Reilly-Boccia walked to open the fifth. Locke lined an RBI double off the third baseman's glove, and Eubanks drove in two more with a double of her own. Bama needed one more run to end the mercy killing via run rule. Jaz Lunceford ran for Eubanks, and stole third. However, Larsen lined out to the mound, forcing at least one more inning.

Texas ended it's season at 40-20 when Morgan induced a grounder to the mound to end the seventh.

Other than the five double plays, the second most surprising development of the day came when Jacksonville State beat Tennessee twice in Knoxville. That means the Gamecocks, not the Vols, will visit Tuscaloosa next weekend for the Super Regional. The winner of that best-of-three series heads to Oklahoma City for the Women's College World Series.

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