Alabama Softball Rolls Over Alcorn

It's so far, so good for host Alabama at the Tuscaloosa NCAA Softball Regional. As expected, the Tide made quick work of Alcorn State Friday night, getting an expected 9-0, run-rule win. However, the going is about to get a bit tougher due to the dramatic overnight improvement in the quality of pitching the 49-9 Tide will face Saturday.

Alabama, which has now won 25 consecutive games, will play Lipscomb in the second round at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Alabama Softball Complex.

GAME STORY: Alabama Coach Patrick Murphy chose to start true freshman Lauren Sewell in the opener, opting to rest his aces. Good call. Sewell went four innings, allowed two hits, walked two and struck out four to raise her record to 10-1.

"She was hitting her corners," said Murphy, "and we scored every inning… That's how we roll."

"We took care of business," added Larsen.

Indeed. Bama wasted little time getting to Lady Braves starter Jennie Hatch, and scored a pair of runs in the opening frame. The speedy Kayla Braud bunted her way on to lead off the bottom of the first, and promptly stole second. After Cassie Reilly-Boccia walked, Charlotte Morgan drew a pass to load the bases. Whitney Larsen brought a run home with a sac fly to center, with two gone; Jazlyn Lunceford drilled an RBI single to center.

Singles by Kendall Dawson and Jennifer Fenton put Bama runners on the corners with no outs in the second, until Fenton stole her 27th base of the year. Swinging away, Braud then drove a liner over the right field wall for her third homer of the year.

"It was an inside pitch. I got the middle of it," Braud said, "and just hoped it had the height to leave the park." That it did.

Lunceford singled to lead off the third, and Courtney Conley walked. After Dawson bunted the runners over, Fenton brought Lunceford home with a sacrifice fly. Braud slapped a ball in the dirt, and, as usual, beat it out, scoring Conley. After Braud picked up her 42nd steal, Reilly-Boccia doubled off the left fielder's glove to plate Braud, and the Tide had the eight runs it needed to gain a five inning, run-rule win.

Bama was not done, however. Larsen tripled to lead off the fourth, and Lunceford brought her in with a deep fly ball to left center, providing a bigger, just-in-case cushion at 9-0.

Locke came in to pitch the top of the fifth, and promptly struck out the side in a non-save situation.

PRESS BOX FARE: Dinner was served in between Friday's games, compliments of Chick-fil-A. Can't go wrong there. The box included a sandwich (choice of grilled or fried), chips, fruit cup and a brownie. Not in a healthy mood, I went with the sure thing, fried, and it hit the spot. Hey, the Coke Zero cancels out the rest of the calories, right? Hope for trying the grilled later in the game were snuffed out by good budgeting by host UA. Can't blame 'em for ordering just the right amount.

NEXT UP: While standing in the privacy of the men's room in the softball complex press box, I noticed the UAB dragon mascot's uniform, lying in a heap. That was probably an omen. The Blazers ran up against a buzz saw in the form of Lipscomb pitcher Whitney Kiihnl, who breezed through six innings and gave up but one run, a homer to lead off the bottom of the seventh. The Bisons beat the Blazers, 4f-1, and will face Bama at 1:30 pm. Saturday.

The Saturday matchup between Kiihnl (32-3) and Bama ace Kelsi Dunne (27-4) could be one for the ages. Kiihn's ERA actually rose slightly with the one run she allowed, going from 0.73 to 0.74, but still good for tops in the USA. The sophomore from Batesville, Miss fanned 11 UAB hitters, and walked one, while allowing just the three hits. She can bring it. A late bloomer, Kiihnl chose the Bison over Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Batesville is home to former Tide football greats DeShea Townsend and Dwayne Rudd.

"Nobody else knew about her," said Lipscomb coach Kristin Ryman. "She preferred the laid-back, Christian atmosphere of our school to the spotlight (of the SEC)."

Murphy agreed. "Nobody saw her. She's a diamond in the rough."

Said Larsen: "Her numbers speak for themselves. We're just going to come out and respect them."

Said UAB coach Marla Townsend: "It's tough to get her to a full count. She's an outstanding pitcher. She can get down in the count, but finds a way to work back."

Kiihnl knows she will be in the limelight Saturday, like it or not. "Alabama has one of the best, if not the best, hitting teams in the country," she said. "I'm going to have to be confident on the mound, and throw my game. If they hit it, they hit, and if they don't, they don't."

That "game" includes a rise-ball, drop-ball and change-up, mixed in with a fastball to keep hitters off balance.

The winner of Saturday's Tide/Bisons matchup is off until Sunday, while the loser will have to fight its way back through the loser's bracket, beginning with the winner of Saturday's 4 p.m. game between UAB and Alcorn.

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