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March 21, 2012

After dramatic win, Tide falls shy of tying record

TUSCALOOSA | Jackie Traina had sweated through 195 pitches.

The University of Alabama softball team's sophomore ace pitcher had struck out 15 batters, the last one to escape a bases-loaded situation in the top of the 11th inning.

Having already notched career highs in strikeouts and pitches thrown in a game on Wednesday, Traina only needed to see one more pitch.

That pitch came from Tennessee's Ivy Renfroe with two outs in the bottom of the 11th, and Traina jumped on it. She blasted Renfroe's first offering 240 feet over the fence in straightaway center field to lift the top-ranked Crimson Tide to a 3-2 win over the 11th-ranked Lady Vols.

The walk-off home run extended Alabama's seasonlong winning streak to 26 games, the second-best streak to start a season in school history, but it ended with a 5-2 defeat in the second game of the doubleheader with UA one win shy of tying the record.

The decisive home run was as exciting to Traina as it was to the crowd of 3,135.

"I was so stoked," she said. "I wasn't too hot at the plate and I saw right before me that she was throwing first-pitch changeups, so I was like, 'I'm sitting on this right now,' and it happened to work out for me."

Traina kept Alabama alive in the first game with an epic pitching performance at Rhoads Stadium before her bat came into play to end the game. She gave up nine hits and worked through two costly errors to improve to 16-0.

Tennessee loaded the bases on two singles and an intentional walk with one out in the fourth but only managed to scratch out a 1-0 lead on Cheyanne Tarango's infield single before Traina pitched her way out of it.

Alabama rallied for a 2-1 advantage in the bottom of the fifth on an RBI double by outfielder Jennifer Fenton and a sacrifice fly by first baseman Cassie Reilly-Boccia.

The Lady Vols tied it in the sixth when second baseman Lauren Gibson singled, advanced to third on an errant throw and scored on a fielder's choice.

That's the way it remained until Traina's blast, but the pitcher labored to keep it tied. She cranked up the heat, blowing the ball by Tennessee batters for three-up, three-down innings in the ninth and 10th as she seemed to gain strength the deeper she got into the game.

"You've got to take your hat off to her," Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. "A great performance."

In the 11th, Traina yielded a hard-hit leadoff single to Melissa Davin. The Crimson Tide elected to intentionally walk dangerous UT leadoff hitter Raven Chavanne, and Tennessee loaded the bases with two outs on another walk. Traina then struck out cleanup hitter Madison Shipman on four pitches to escape the jam.

"I was thinking thank goodness we run a lot in practice," Traina said. "These are the things that we practice for, this is why we do the circuits in the fall, this is why we run every day in practice. You get your second wind. I felt great."

And with two outs in the bottom of the inning - matching the longest game ever for Tennessee and the longest home game in UA history - Traina cranked her third home run of the year and the 16th of her career.

Traina's walk-off heroics masked shortcomings in Alabama's offense. The three through eight hitters in the lineup didn't manage a hit until Traina's home run. Renfroe (5-6) threw 152 pitches, allowing three runs on five hits with a career-high 14 strikeouts in the loss.

Alabama's struggles at the plate continued in the second game against Tennessee ace Ellen Renfroe (15-1), Ivy's younger sister. Alabama managed just three hits, a season low, including a two-run home run from Kaila Hunt in the fourth inning to account for UA's scoring.

Tennessee beat out 10 total hits, exploiting Alabama's defensive gaps against the short game with several bunt singles. Alabama also committed two errors.

"I thought Ivy looked better than Ellen and we didn't take advantage of it for whatever reason," Murphy said.

Losing pitcher Leslie Jury (7-1) allowed four runs on seven hits in four innings before being relieved by Amanda Locke, who closed out the game for UA.

"Leslie's got to match the zeroes until we can score," Murphy said, "and then give us a chance. She's got to learn that, a freshman, she's going to have to do it sometime."

Melissa Brown hit a three-run home run for UT, with Shipman adding a solo homer.

Alabama takes a 26-1 record (7-1 in Southeastern Conference play) into this weekend's Easton Alabama Challenge round-robin event with DePaul and Longwood. Alabama hosts 25th-ranked DePaul at 6 p.m. Friday to open the event. Tennessee is now 20-7, 4-4 in SEC play.

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


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