Atypical Win... But A Tide Win

Chicks don't always dig the long ball. In a dogfight (or should that be catfight?) that was both understandable and predicted, the top-seeded Alabama softball game won its 50th game of the season Saturday against a gutty, gritty group from Nashville. The Tide hung on for a 5-2 win in a game that, quite frankly, could have gone either way.

Alabama will rest 24 hours with its 50-9 mark and 26 straight wins, while the Lady Bisons (49-12) will battle their way through the loser's bracket.

GAME STORY: Facing America's top pitcher ERA-wise in Lipscomb's Whitney Kiihnl, the Tide batted first as it was designated the visitors for this game, even as hosts and the NCAA's top seed. Would the Tide, also using the visitor's dugout, take advantage and strike for first blood in the top of the first?

Yes, but mainly due to the Lady Bisons being their own worst enemies.

Kayla Braud, leadoff hitter extraordinaire, bunted her way on to start the game. Cassie Reilly-Boccia, attempting to sacrifice, poked a bunt between third and short to give the Tide two on and no out. Charlotte Morgan appeared to be out at first on a grounder, but was awarded the base on catcher's interference to load the sacks

Kiihnl was in trouble, but got Whitney Larsen to ground to short against a drawn-in infield, and Braud was out at home on the force. After falling behind 0-2, Amanda Locke was grazed by a pitch for an RBI the hard way and a 1-0 Tide lead.

With the bases still full, Jazlyn Lunceford went down swinging, and freshman Courtney Conley grounded to short. It appeared a routine force play would have Kiihnl out of the inning, but Locke beat the throw to second, and Morgan and Larsen both were able to come home.

To be fair to Kiihnl, she trailed 3-0 after a half-inning, and no one had yet gotten good aluminum on the ball. No one ever said softball was a fair game. That said, a lawsuit for lack of support by Kiihnl would have not been thrown out of court.

Need further proof? Lipscomb right fielder Caroline Mason sailed a throw nearly to the Black Warrior River, allowing pinch-runner Lisa Elizondo to score from second on a play where she had chosen not to tag up. That third inning gaffe made the score 4-0.

"We made some key mental mistakes," said Lipscomb Coach Kristin Ryman. "We felt like, coming in, we had a legitimate shot. We still do.

"We like being in the underdog role, but (Alabama) didn't overlook us."

Tide coach Patrick Murphy agreed. "It was a tough game. We took advantage of some opportunities, and came away with a couple of lucky runs in the first inning."

Braud bunted her way on for the second time to lead off the fourth, and stole her 43rd base of the year. Reilly-Boccia walked. Showing respect for the opposing pitcher, Murphy had SEC Player of the Year Morgan sacrifice, and her bunt moved both runners up. Larsen grounded to short to score Braud. The sac bunt was Morgan's first of the year.

"I wanted another run, " Murphy explained, adding that it was a sign of respect for Kiihnl, who was charged with five runs in four-plus frames, but only two were earned.

"I was shocked at how fast (Alabama was) on the bases," said Kiihnl. "You don't want anyone on base, and they didn't seem to swing at the change-up much."

The first Tide player to get solid contact against Kiihnl was… no one. She was pulled in the top of the fifth, down five runs. Yet and still, they all counted. This Tide team can play small ball or long ball. It can do it all.

"Not every game are we going to be able to hit home runs and have a flashy win," said Larsen. "Everybody really did a good job of executing."

Said Murphy, "It's good for us, going down the road (to Oklahoma City and the WCWS), to be in this kind of game. It's kind of like a 10-9 football game: it may be ugly, but it's a win."

Meanwhile, Alabama ace Kelsi Dunne was her usual dominant self. Dunne went all seven innings, and registered ten strikeouts and walked but one. She upped her record to 28-4. Dunne escaped a jam in the fifth by striking out two straight batters with the bases loaded and one run already in for the Lady Bisons.

"They're a good team. They have good hitters," said Dunne. "They made adjustments, and I had to make adjustments, too."

Dunne gave up four hits, all in the last three innings. "We went up there the first inning like, ‘Hey, we've seen (Dunne) on TV, and in the College World Series," said Bisons second baseman Abby Keese, who got two hits. "Later, we figured out we had to wait on her and not swing at the pitches she wanted us to swing at."

Dunne summed it up thusly: "All we worry about is getting the ‘w.' We did that, today."

That they did. And, as a result, three other teams will battle temperatures in the 90's while the Tide rests up for Sunday.

ATTENDANCE/TIME OF GAME: These numbers are interesting, at least to me. Friday the Bama game, it took but 1:14 and was viewed by 2,323 folks. Saturday, with beautiful weather and a tougher opponent, those numbers became 1:59 and 2,439, respectively. The outfield was nearly packed, and the regular seats were.

PRESS BOX FARE: Panera Bread's chicken salad sandwich is no better – or worse – than anyone else's. The fruit cup was good since it had different things than the previous day's cup from Chick-fil-A, i.e., no apples, and easier to eat. Mango was a nice touch. No chips were in the box, but a cookie was, although it was nearly tasteless. As the saying goes, and it's true, beggars can't be choosers. With Bama done for the day, I'm told the writers who remained were given a $12 coupon for the concession stand. Sunday lunch should be interesting. I'll say this: you can't bet the price!

NEXT UP: The plan for the Tide Sunday is to play one game, against whoever advances from the loser's bracket. That game begins at 1:30 p.m. A second game, if the Tide gets upset, would follow immediately. The pick here is a Bama/Bisons rematch.

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