Alabama softball falls in super regional opener to Northwestern
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For the fifth time in program history, Alabama softball dropped the first game of the super regional round, falling to No. 12 Northwestern 3-1 on Friday.
Here are a few takeaways from the Game 1 loss.
Fouts returns to the circle
For the last week two weeks, Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy had to answer when the Crimson Tide will put No. 14 back into the circle. After injuring her left leg against Arkansas at the SEC Championship Tournament, Montana Fouts was held out of the regional round, even though she warmed up in the bullpen during its winner-take-all matchup against Middle Tennessee.
While the questions were persistent, Murphy won't have to answer them anymore as Fouts got the nod to start Game 1 of the Tuscaloosa Super Regional. While having the senior back in the circle was supposed to be a calming presence, she and Alabama looked shakey on Friday as it yielded three runs on five pitches and threw just 64 pitches in her return.
"I'm not happy with the outcome, but I'm just really thankful that I get to lace up the cleats today because two weeks ago, I don't know," Fouts said. "You always have faith and you always believe but it was just surreal for me to do that again so I'm really thankful for that."
Friday's loss brings up a bevy of sobering stats that Alabama will have to overcome if it's going to make its 14th appearance in the Women's College World Series. The defeat is the sixth time in program history that Alabama has lost the first game, two of which happened at Rhoads Stadium. Along with its own personal history, the Crimson Tide will have to overcome the law of averages.
According to ESPN, teams who win Game 1 of the super regional have an 81% chance to advance to Oklahoma City. The Crimson Tide has come from behind after dropping the first game just twice, both of which came on its home field. In 2011, led by Kelsi Dunne and Kayla Braud, the Crimson Tide won the next two games to advance past Stanford. Four years later, Alabama did it again with Haylie McCleney and Marissa Runyon to defeat Oklahoma.
"No. 1 we need to score more runs than they do, I don't care how," Murphy said. "No. 2 we need to keep our poise. They've been playing this game since they were five years old. (We) need to keep the poise, don't make it bigger than what it is and just play ball like they've played since they were a kid — all the way across the board with no worry of consequence."
Bats go quiet
A nagging issue resurfaced for Alabama on Friday, the inability to get a much-needed hit in key situations. The Crimson Tide had no issues getting that hit last weekend highlighted by Ally Shipman's solo home run that sent Alabama to the super-regional round over Middle Tennessee State.
However, five of Shipman's teammates suffered a similar fate on Friday, going hitless in the Game 1 loss to the Wildcats. Leading the way in the team's struggles at the plate is ironically its lead-off hitter, Jenna Johnson. Johnson is now 0-for-10 in her last three games during this postseason which dropped her batting average from .280 to .258.
Coming into Friday's game Murphy opted to shake up his lineup to spark some offense as six players — Ashley Prange, Kali Heivilin, Larissa Preuitt, Emma Broadfoot. Kenleigh Cahalan and Shipman — were shuffled around against the Wildcats. The only player to have any success against Wildcats starter Danielle Williams was Prange who went 2-for-3 with a double.
While Alabama tallied five or more hits in its fourth-consecutive game, Murphy said one of the reasons for the cold night at the plate was the team expanded the zone too much.
"We had the bases loaded and in postseason softball, if we get a hit there, it's a totally different ball game," Murphy said. "You do the ifs and buts game which I don't like to play. We lined out to third base, she made two or three great plays, the left fielder made a good play on (Cahalan's) ball. There was a lot of balls that were hit hard that were right at them, we need to find a hole in the field."