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June 6, 2011

Florida eliminates Alabama from WCWS

OKLAHOMA CITY | The University of Alabama softball team's dream of playing for a national championship came crashing down in the span of one inning.

The Crimson Tide came into the Women's College World Series semifinal Sunday at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium needing only to beat nemesis Florida once to advance to the championship series, riding the momentum of 30 straight postseason innings without giving up a run.

Alabama melted down under the heat of the Oklahoma sun and the blistering bats of the Florida Gators, giving up 11 runs in the first inning of the first game.

Alabama lost 16-2, giving up the program's most runs ever in a game and the most runs ever by any team in an inning at the World Series.

Alabama never recovered.

The Gators completed their sweep with a 9-2 victory to take the Crimson Tide's place in the championship round. The Gators face Arizona State in a best-of-three series today.

"The dominoes kind of fell," Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. "We've been on the other side of it where our offense has just exploded.

"Sometimes it's just one of those days where everything goes their way. It might have been that way that first inning."

The avalanche started on the third pitch thrown by Alabama's senior pitcher, Kelsi Dunne, which UF outfielder Michelle Moultrie sent sailing over the fence in center field for the first of seven Florida home runs on the day.

As far as the home run traveled, it stabbed deeper into the heart of Dunne, who had been victimized by Gator-propelled home runs over the course of her four years, including one two years ago that eliminated Alabama from the World Series.

After Moultrie's shot, Dunne seemed haunted by those old wounds. She gave up a single, and thereafter was either unwilling or unable to throw a strike. She walked two batters to load the bases, then hit a batter to bring in a run.

Another walk brought in another Florida run, and Dunne was pulled. She threw just 12 strikes in 29 pitches and recorded only one out.

"You have to try to keep your mind in the game after that first home run, and things just got a little out of control," she said.

Florida's onslaught continued when freshman Jackie Traina, herself an All-American, was called in to try to stop the bleeding. A walk and a single brought in three more runs, and another single and another walk loaded the bases for Brittany Schutte, who upped the score to 11-0 with a grand slam.

"Just an unfortunate game by us and a good game by them," Murphy said.

Cheyenne Coyle and Ensley Gammel added home runs as Florida stomped out whatever confidence Alabama might have had left.

Whitney Larsen and Jazlyn Lunceford hit solo homers for the Crimson Tide, pale counters to Florida's fearsome display.

Murphy did what he could to collect his team over a break of about four hours before the rematch.

"I told them they had 15 minutes to pout, swear, yell, scream, cry, whatever they want to do on the way back to the hotel," the coach said. "Once we get to the hotel, that's over and start getting ready for the next game."

Florida came out more ready in the second game, hitting two home runs in the top of the first inning to take a 3-0 lead.

This time, Dunne (36-7) lasted two innings before getting pulled with the bases loaded with no outs in the third, her career defined as much by her failures against the Gators as by her status as a four-time All-American.

The unanswered question is why was Dunne, who had shut down Stanford (twice), Cal and Baylor in effortless fashion in the games leading up to the collapse, always so vulnerable against Florida?

"She's not predictable and she doesn't have any predictable pitches she throws," Florida coach Tim Walton said. "She throws different combinations of things. I'm going to give credit to our hitters. Our hitters have done just a little better job in her four years of making adjustments, because she's a heck of a pitcher and she beat us plenty of times, too."

Florida added one more home run and extended its lead over the course of the game. Alabama rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh, highlighted by Larsen's RBI single, but seemed punch-less when Florida's lead was still within reach.

"We just couldn't get runners on when we needed them," Larsen said.

Alabama finished the season 53-11, coming as close as ever to playing for a national title, but finishing, on the final day, so far away.

Murphy doesn't want a disastrous day at the World Series to define the 2011 season.

"I hope it doesn't," he said. "Once a season is ended, you get to kind of quantify the team. I told the two seniors this is the best team ever at Alabama. They finished the highest, they got the most accomplished, both of them were All-Americans their senior year, just so many good things happened - back-to-back SEC champions, led the nation in attendance average per game.

"There's so many good things other than this last day. I hope it doesn't get overshadowed."

Reach Tommy Deas at tommy.deas@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0224.


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