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April 2, 2013TUSCALOOSA | The fourth-ranked University of Alabama softball team needed a spark. It came from Leslie Jury.
The sophomore pitcher entered Tuesday's game against Jacksonville State in the fourth inning of what had been a lackluster affair and attacked Gamecocks batters with relish. She shut down Jacksonville State's offense, and her aggressive approach carried over to Alabama's bats, which awakened to put the visitors away for an 11-3 mercy-rule victory at Rhoads Stadium.
The Crimson Tide (33-5) took a 5-1 lead with a big second-inning outburst but watched Jacksonville State (19-16) chip away, cutting the margin to 5-3 as UA starting pitcher Lauren Sewell struggled. She allowed five hits, walked four batters and hit three before Alabama coach Patrick Murphy turned to Jury.
"I think when your starting pitcher hits (a batter), walks, hits, walks and strikes out seven or eight, it just doesn't make sense to me," Murphy said. "If she can strike out seven or eight she doesn't need to hit or walk a couple of them, so we need to work on that."
Jury inherited two base runners with one out. A lineout to shortstop and another liner up the middle that Jury plucked from the air, and Alabama was out of that jam and ready to break the game open.
"She came in and did exactly her job," Murphy said. "The reliever is supposed to leave the score as is. We were saying the other day that we want our pitchers to be offensive even though they're on the defensive side of the ball. They need to look offensive when they pitch, and I think she did that tonight."
Freshman outfielder Haylie McCleney kick-started things with a single to start the bottom of the fourth. Kayla Braud followed with a bunt single, and Jackie Traina singled in a run with one out. First baseman Jadyn Spencer added emphasis with a three-run home run to put Alabama up 9-3.
Jury walked one batter and struck out two in 1 2/3 innings of no-hit relief for the save, her first of the season.
"I've really been working hard at going after batters, lowering the pitch count," she said. "Every time I go out there I try to bring up the energy, provide a little bit of a spark."
The Crimson Tide then put the game away with style. Two walks and a McCleney single loaded the bases for Traina, who ended the game by stroking a two-RBI single to right to invoke the mercy rule. Traina finished 2-for-3 with three RBIs.
McCleney, in the leadoff spot in the batting order, went 4-for-4 with two RBIs and three runs scored. Murphy challenged her after she went 0-for-7 in two wins at Texas A&M last weekend.
"It was good for me to see something like that and be challenged over the weekend like I was," McCleney said. "It's only going to make me better. It's just making adjustments."
Alabama will host No. 6 Missouri this weekend in a three-game series.