TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - With a spot in the Women's College World Series on the line, Alabama gutted out a tough 8-5 victory over Texas to punch the program's 12th ticket to the field-of-eight in Oklahoma City.
"I couldn't be more proud of this group," UA head coach Patrick Murphy said postgame. "I said before the game that I would rather have gritty than pretty any day as a ballplayer. Whatever you have to do, get it done. They have done that all year long."
The WCWS trip is the 12th in program history for the Crimson Tide, its first since 2016. With a 23-year history as a program, Alabama is one of three Division-I softball teams that has qualified to the WCWS more often that it hasn't, along with Arizona and UCLA.
Alabama (57-8) struck first in the bottom of the second before Texas (46-17) answered right back in the top of the third. The Tide broke it open with a five-run third, including back-to-back home runs from sophomore KB Sides and junior Bailey Hemphill. Another run in the fourth made it a six-run game but the Longhorns came storming back with a grand slam in the fifth to draw within two. An insurance run in the bottom of the sixth made it 8-5 and Texas got the potential tying run to the plate in the seventh, but the Longhorns did not score as the Tide held on for the three-run victory.
"Congrats to Texas on a hell of a series," Murphy said. "We also want to send our prayers and good wishes to Miranda [Elish]. She was in the dugout today which is a really good sign."
Hemphill's third-inning home run was her 25th of the season, tying Kelly Kretschman's single-season school record that has stood since 1998. Her 77 RBIs puts her three shy of Marisa Runyon's record from 2015 and she has reached base in 37-straight games. Sophomore Kaylee Tow drew her 66th walk of the season, tying Cassie Reilly-Boccia's record mark from 2010.
Sides and Hemphill went a combined 4-for-7 at the top of the order, with Sides driving in four of the team's eight RBIs. Freshman Skylar Wallace was 2-for-3 with three runs scored while sophomore Maddie Morgan went 3-for-3, driving in a trio of RBIs. Freshman Montana Fouts (19-5) went the distance in the circle to earn the complete-game victory.
"It means the world," Morgan said on the opportunity to play in the WCWS. "We have worked so hard and the seniors have led this team so well. This team deserves everything in the world. I am so proud and I am speechless, honestly."
With two on and two out for Texas in the top of the first, Shannon Rhodes hit a single up the middle but junior Elissa Brown scooped it up quick from shallow center and fired it home to senior Reagan Dykes at the plate, who applied the tag to get the runner out trying to score to end the inning and keep the Longhorns out of the run column. Alabama loaded the bases with two out in the bottom half of the inning but could not score.
Sophomore Maddie Morgan roped a double off the right-field wall to start the bottom of the second, and a fielding error on a sac bunt attempt from junior Claire Jenkins put runners at the corners. Two batters later, Sides dropped an RBI single into right field to give Alabama a 1-0 lead. With Hemphill at the plate, a great diving stop by the Longhorn second baseman on a chopper up the middle kept the ball in the infield, but there was no throw as Hemphill reached on the infield single to load the bases. A popup and force out would limit the damage to one run as the Tide headed to the third with a 1-0 lead.
Texas answered in the next half-inning, with sophomore catcher Mary Iakopo hitting a two-out RBI single to tie it at 1-1. Wallace was in standing up at second after a leadoff double in the bottom half. After tagging up and moving to third on a deep fly ball, she did so again on a sac fly from Morgan to make it 2-1 with two out. The Texas centerfielder dropped a fly ball on what would have been out number three, allowing Jenkins to hustle up to second on the error. A walk to senior pinch-hitter Caroline Hardy put two on base and Sides blasted a home run to straightaway center to extend the lead to 5-1. Hemphill made it back-to-back with a solo shot, stretching it to 6-1 as Texas made another pitching change in the circle. A popup ended the big inning with the Tide ahead by five.
With two out and Wallace at first base in the bottom of the fourth, Morgan dropped a single just over the head of a running Texas third baseman. With Wallace running on contact with two outs, the speedy freshman hustled all the way home from first on the play to make it a 7-1 game.
The Longhorns loaded the bases with one out in the top of the fifth, setting up Shannon Rhodes for a grand slam to draw Texas within two. With two on and two out in the bottom of the sixth, Morgan hit another RBI single to make it 8-5. The Tide took the three-run lead to the top of the seventh and Texas got the potential tying run to the plate with two outs, but a fly ball to Sides in right ended it as the Tide dogpiled in the circle.
Alabama will open play at the Women's College World Series Thursday, May 30 against the winner of the Norman Super Regional, featuring No. 1 seed Oklahoma and No. 16 seed Northwestern. Game times and channel designations are to be determined.