Bama Softball Takes Region Title

And on the seventh day, Whitney Kiihnl got no rest. Lipscomb ace pitcher Kiihnl had seen her nation-leading earned run average rise from 0.73 to 0.84 in two Saturday games at the Tuscaloosa NCAA Softball Regional. In the process, the sophomore had thrown 252 pitches before facing top national seed Alabama Sunday for the right to advance to a Super Regional.



Would that natural arm fatigue, coupled with oppressive late May temperatures in the 90s, be factors as Alabama tried to beat the Lady Bisons' ace a second straight day?

That was the question coming into Sunday's action. Herein lies the answer. Legendary Tide Basketball Coach "Wimp" Sanderson was wont to borrow the Vince Lombardi quote: "Fatigue makes cowards of us all." While Kiihnl is no coward, she is human, and that's a major reason Alabama beat Lipscomb, 6-0.

GAME STORY: After no Tider put a hard-hit ball into play between the lines against Kiihnl Saturday, one had to naturally wonder who would end that steak. The answer came partially in the bottom of the first inning, but did not result in any scoring. Fairly hard hit fly balls by Kayla Braud, Cassie Reilly-Boccia and Amanda Locke were all caught, all shy of the track. Bama was beginning to get a feel for Kiihnl. Still, there had been no true liner that was a hit.

Then, with one gone in the second, freshman Courtney Conley blasted a deep drive to left that just stuck inside the foul pole. The ice was broken in two ways: first "shot" off Kiihnl, and first run of the day for Bama. For Conley, it was the ninth time the third sacker dialed long distance this year. Further, most Bama hitters were working the righty for full counts, even when retired.

"I think seeing her (Saturday) really helped," said Conley. "It was awesome to be able to get on top of that rise ball."

In the bottom of the third on – you guessed it – a full count, Locke hit a towering shot that just got over the out-stretched glove of leaping Lady Bisons center fielder Lauren Dortwegt. The blast scored Charlotte Morgan, who had walked, and Bama led 3-0.

Locke said, "I just went up there and was just trying to find my pitch. She has a great rise-ball and is a good pitcher. I was just trying to see a pitch down and hit it. It was a change-up."

Kelsi Dunne, pitching just her second game of the weekend, was in control the entire game. The junior struck out an eye-popping (and mitt-popping) 14 batters with no walks while allowing only two hits.

"The shutout was nice to get," Dunne said. "I just went out there and battled my butt off for my team. I knew my role was to keep them off base. Our defense made some great plays."

"(Dunne) keeps you guessing up there, and that's what we were doing," said Lipscomb second baseman Lauren Dortwegt.

Conley went deep again in the sixth, on a no-doubter, giving her ten bombs on the year. Alabama now has 100 home runs on the season, tied with Florida for the SEC lead. For Kiihnl, that meant exit, stage right, to the Lipscomb dugout. That after a 496-pitch weekend.

"I was pretty tired," said Kiihnl. "Coach just told me to push through."

After reliever Alaina Jacobson plunked Dawson and walked Fenton, Jackey Branham sacrificed both up 60 feet. Reilly-Boccia plated Dawson with a sacrifice fly. Fenton scored on an errant pickoff attempt at third by catcher Mollie Mitchell.

Heading to the seventh, Dunne and Bama led 6-0.

The Lady Bisons ended their season 50-13. Bama has now won 27 straight,

"We haven't' lost since March 31," noted Tide Coach Patrick Murphy. "How do you complain about that?"

INJURY NOTE: Murphy said Braud suffered a concussion yesterday during a collision with Lady Bisons' first baseman Kellie Sirus. He pulled her mid-game, but added she could have returned if necessary, and should be okay for the Super Regional.

TIME/ATTENDANCE: The game lasted 2:01, and was viewed by 2,170 fans, despite the heat. That supports a banner in the outfield stands at the Alabama Softball Complex that read, "The Best Softball Fans In The Country." If Bama is home, they show up.

Said Murphy: "It's an incredible feeling, as the coach, to see that."

INTERESTING NOTE: Bama fans may wonder why, each time Morgan reaches base, backup Keima Davis trots out to first, even when not pinch-running. Davis is delivering Morgan's regular cleat for her right foot, which Morgan suffered a stress fracture on. Morgan bats with a cleat on her left foot and a turf shoe on the right, for medical reasons. Who knew? Not me, until Sunday.

PRESS BOX FARE: Mike and Ed's BBQ has roots in Columbus, GA, but has since branched out to first Auburn and then Tuscaloosa. Lots of hungry college kids – and, in this case, media mavens –in both towns. Today I chose the chicken sandwich for the simple reason that it came with Fritos, and I don't prefer Doritos or Cheetos with my ‘cue. I chose well. The sauce was tangy but not too spicy, the meat was tender, and the always enjoyable sweet and salty combo was in place when combining the remaining Fritos with a chocolate chip cookie Add in a cold Coke Zero (and no, I can't discern between it and real Coke), and you have a nice Sunday press box meal.

NEXT UP: Alabama (51-9) will host the winner of the Stanford regional, either Texas Tech or the Hawaii Lady Rainbows, who set an NCAA mark for homers this year, entering Sunday with 144. The pick here is Hawaii, which at this writing was the only team in that group without a loss and would have to lose twice Sunday to not advance. Game dates and times are still in "TBA" status.

As the nation's number one seed and having an outstanding facility, there is no doubt the Super Regional will be in Tuscaloosa.

Should Hawaii advance, Lipscomb's contingent predicts a good series. "Hawaii does not rely on the short game," said Lady Bisons coach Kristin Ryman, whose team beat the Lady Rainbows earlier this year. "They go up there hacking. They swing for the fences."

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