OKLAHOMA CITY -- Alabama's season came to an end Friday night with a 2-0 loss to Stanford in an elimination game at the Women's College World Series.
With it came the end of the career of Alabama star pitcher Montana Fouts. She again took the circle with a large brace on the left knee she hyperextended during the recent SEC Tournament and pitched valiantly, going the full seven innings and giving up just five hits and the two runs.
But Stanford, the 9-seed, held the 5-seed Crimson Tide to a single hit as starting pitcher Alana Vawter and reliever NiJaree Canady combined on a masterpiece shutout.
Fouts settled in after Stanford rapped out four hits in the first three innings. She did not give up another hit until Stanford's Sydney Steele lined a home run over the left-field wall with two outs in the top of the seventh, making it 2-0.
That was more than enough to secure the win for Stanford.
Vawter did not surrender a hit until giving up a single to shallow center field to Ashley Prange with two outs in the third inning. But after Prange advanced to second on a wild pitch, that was as far as she could get. Vawter ended the inning by getting Bama's Jenna Johnson to bounce out to second.
And when it got time for her to exit in favor of Canady in the sixth inning, Canady was virtually unhittable, retiring all five batters she faced and striking out three of them.
"The two young ladies from Stanford that were on the mound are terrific," Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. "It's a terrific duo that they have there now. They're just tough to square up. Kudos to them.
"I don't think anybody gave us a shot in hell of being here once Montana went down in Fayetteville (at the SEC Tournament). I can't say enough about our team doctors, Dr. Lyle Cain, Kevin Wilk the P.T. Dr. Brett Bentley, Esi Atinkah our athletic trainer, and everybody that helped nurse her back to what she was."
Stanford manufactured the game's first run in the top of the second when Emily Schultz singled and eventually scored on Sydney Steele's double with one out. But Fouts struck out the last two Cardinal batters to end the inning without suffering further damage.
There were a number of fine defensive gems in the well-played contest -- perhaps none more impressive than two that were made in each half of the sixth inning. The first was a leaping catch Alabama left fielder Johnson made on a ball hit over her head as she ran back and slammed into the padded wall in the top of the inning. Then when Johnson subsequently came to the plate and smacked a sharp liner to right field, Stanford right fielder Kaitlyn Lim made a spectacular diving catch to end Alabama's half of the same inning.
But the stellar pitching from both sides was the biggest story.
Fouts was nearly as brilliant as the Stanford combination of Vawter and Canady. She did not walk a single batter, struck out four, and finished the final season of her storied Alabama career with an ERA of 1.94. She shut down the Cardinal from the third inning on until until Steele's homer run in the seventh provided the Cardinal with an insurance run.
It was not needed.
Vawter went the first 5.1 innings for Stanford, striking out five. Neither her nor Canady walked a batter. So there was not a single free pass issued by any of the three pitchers in the game.
Fouts went out with class, as usual. She said after the game that while she would have loved to have stuck around the WCWS longer, or better yet long enough to win a national championship, she is happy with what she experienced in her college softball career.
"I've been thinking about it a lot recently," she said. "I didn't start playing the game of softball just to win a national championship. I started playing because I love it. I love the game. I love the struggle that it brings me sometimes. I love, like Murph has taught me, to be an overcomer. I love that.
"I love that about our team. I love the memories. I love my teammates. I love that it's brought me a family."
Winning on Friday night would have been awesome, she admitted.
"That would have been great," said Fouts, "but I've won in life."
HOW IT HAPPENED
T2 | Schultz singled to left. Kaitlyn Lim sacrificed to first, with Schultz advancing to second. Steele doubled to deep right center, scoring Schultz. Stanford 1, Alabama 0.
T7 | With two outs, Steele lined a homer to left. Stanford 2, Alabama 0.
Alabama ended its season with a record of 45-22.
Stanford (46-14) survives to earn another elimination game in the WCWS vs. the loser of Saturday's winner's bracket game between Florida State and Washington.