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May 30, 2012
2009 heroics still a blur to Lunceford
Jazlyn Lunceford's recollection of the events of that night exactly three years ago are a little fuzzy.
The Tuscaloosa County High School graduate doesn't really remember taking a batting helmet and a bat to step up to the plate as a pinch hitter at the Women's College World Series with the bases loaded.
She doesn't remember taking the count to 2-2, and fouling off two pitches against defending national champion Arizona State.
Lunceford, a freshman reserve outfielder for the University of Alabama softball team at the time, doesn't even recall the swing that drove the ball over the fence in right field at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium for a grand slam.
"When I think back on it, all I really remember is celebrating and after," she said. "I don't really remember in the moment, details about it. I just remember celebrating with the team we had that year at home plate and after the game."
Lunceford has now returned to Oklahoma City, where that grand moment happened, but this time she is a senior starter in right field. She wants to make some new memories before the clock runs out on her career. Alabama opens play Thursday evening against Tennessee in the eight-team, double-elimination national championship event.
"While it is no doubt a moment that I'll remember for the rest of my life, it's also something I want to build on," she said. "It would be the best thing ever to make something that just blows that out of the water. While I want to remember it, it would be even greater to accomplish something where that doesn't even compare, which would be winning it all."
To understand the magnitude of what Lunceford did with one swing of the bat three years ago, consider that Alabama trailed Arizona State 2-0 with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the fourth inning. Consider that four-time All-American Brittany Rogers was up to bat, and that UA coach Patrick Murphy instead called on a rookie who hadn't had a hit for more than a month.
Murphy never considered the criticism he might face for taking the bat out of Rogers' hands if Lunceford failed.
"I wasn't thinking that at all," he said. "I just knew that she had really good batting practice, that Brittany had struggled with the bases loaded and she had grounded out to the pitcher with the bases loaded (earlier) in that game. I said to myself the time before, if it happens again I'm pinch hitting Jaz."
Lunceford didn't have much time to think when the moment arrived.
"I guess all that was running through my head was, 'This is it.' We wanted to do it so bad for that senior class, they meant a lot to us and they did so much for this program," she said. "That was our main motivation as underclassmen. That's who we wanted to do it for."
Lunceford did it, and Alabama won 6-2 to advance to the semifinal round of the World Series.
The grand slam has been selected as one of the top 10 moments in Women's College World Series history by ESPNW.com.
"Part of the beauty of the Women's College World Series is it allows the biggest stars in the sport to go head-to-head, but Jazlyn Lunceford's grand slam proved part of its charm is also its ability to create the unlikeliest of heroes," ESPN.com college softball writer Graham Hays said. "Few in the stadium that day who weren't wearing Tide colors knew who Lunceford was when she stepped in the batter's box to pinch hit for an All-American, but one swing later, all of college softball had a hometown hero to celebrate."
Being a freshman probably worked in Lunceford's favor.
"At the time I didn't realize the stage, that it's on TV and all that," she said.
Much of the softball world knows Lunceford for that one hit on the sport's grandest college stage. She's happy to take her career curtain call on that same stage.
"This group of seniors, they're pretty much my five best friends," Lunceford said. "To be able to go out like this, it's going to be great because the best thing is we play for each other. For this to be the last stage and the last experience we have together, nothing compares to that."
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.