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May 31, 2012OKLAHOMA CITY | Sometimes you have to be selective to be aggressive.
That's the approach the University of Alabama softball team took Thursday in its opener at the Women's College World Series.
The second-seeded Crimson Tide got its first seven batters on base safely to spark a four-run first inning that set the tone for a 5-3 victory over the Tennessee Lady Vols.
Alabama advanced to tonight's winner's bracket game against Arizona State.
To get past its Southeastern Conference rival Alabama took command from the start.
"Our batters did a great job, took advantage of some walks," Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. "Just a good way to start this year's World Series for us."
Leadoff hitter Kayla Braud came out locked in and slapped a high chopper to the left side of the Tennessee's infield, beating out a single to start the Crimson Tide off in the bottom of the first.
UA then got selective and took whatever the Lady Vols would give them. Outfielder Jennifer Fenton drew a walk and Kaila Hunt reached on an error when UT right fielder Kat Dotson dropped a fly ball to load the bases.
"I thought we did a great job of swinging at good pitches," Braud said. "We made adjustments. We didn't do as good as we would have liked, but I think we tried to balance it very well between taking (balls) and swinging at strikes."
Cassie Reilly-Boccia provided the biggest dose of aggression, driving a double through the gap in left-center field to clear the bases and give Alabama a 3-0 lead.
"Every time we play, we say we want to keep the momentum on our side," Reilly-Boccia said, "and a great way to do that is to get runs in the first inning."
Said Tennessee coach Ralph Weekly, ""They came out on fire and attacking the ball."
A walk-a-thon began with the next batter, Amanda Locke, who drew a five-pitch walk. Tennessee lifted starting pitcher Ivy Renfroe in favor of her younger sister, Ellen, but she was no better able to locate the strike zone. Alabama's next two batters walked to bring in a run that pushed UA's lead to 4-0.
Tennessee (52-13) cut UA's lead in half on Melissa Davin's two-run homer in the second inning, narrowing the gap to 4-2, but that only served to strengthen the resolve of Alabama ace Jackie Traina (38-2). She didn't allow another ball out of the infield until the seventh inning on the way to a five-hit, eight-strikeout victory.
"Jackie's resilient as a pitcher and you need that at the World Series," Murphy said. "You have to have a very short-term memory, and she has that."
Ellen Renfroe settled down Alabama's bats for a while, but Alabama began to make solid contact and came through for an insurance run in the fourth inning. Braud hit a double to right field and Fenton followed with an RBI single through the right side to put UA ahead 5-2. Tennessee turned back to Ivy Renfroe (25-9) to finish the game.
The Lady Vols put together a too-late rally in the seventh when Traina walked two batters and Raven Chavanne poked a two-hopper into shallow right field. With runners on first and second, Traina struck out the final two batters to end the game.
"You get to the last inning, you're kind of fired up and stuff," Traina said. "I walked two, which shouldn't have happened, but I got to the next two and I just kept my composure."
Alabama, which won with five hits and seven walks, hadn't won a first-round game at the Women's College World Series in its first six appearances before breaking through last year. Now UA has done it two years in a row, and seems comfortable in the national championship spotlight.
"With six seniors, they've been here three times," Murphy said. "They know the field. They know the crowd.
"You get here, you want to play well. You want to do it. You want to just take it home. You get here enough times, it's like, OK, let's do this."
Reach Tommy Deas at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-722-0224.
Alabama tops UT in WCWS opener - Images by TideSports Photo