It may not have been death by small-ball, but the University of Alabama softball team used it to put Florida on the brink of elimination on Thursday night.
With Gators ace Kelly Barnhill having only seen three sacrifice bunts all season, Alabama dropped down four straight on her in the fifth inning. Aided by two throwing errors by the sophomore right-hander, the result was a three-run rally that held up in Game 1 of their Super Regional.
Consequently, Alabama is one win away from the Women’s College World Series.
The lead was all Crimson Tide junior pitcher Alexis Osorio needed at Katie Seashole Pressly Stadium. Although the Gators had the leadoff batter reach base in four of the first five innings, and loaded the bases in the fifth, she recorded the Crimson Tide’s 27th shutout of the season — setting a program record.
It was the most runs Florida had allowed in a game since a 15-7 midweek victory over Bethune-Cookman on March 29.
Alabama, seeded 16th in the NCAA Tournament, had only one hit through the first six innings, when junior second baseman Demi Turner led off the game with a single. It finished with three.
— NCAA Softball (@NCAAsoftball) May 26, 2017
Player of the game
Osorio (23-7) gave up three hits, striking out eight, with three walks and four hit batters. She threw 121 pitches.
Immediately after Alabama took the lead, Florida loaded the bases in the bottom fifth, but with two outs and a full count she got catcher Janell Wheaton to fly out to left to end both the threat and a 12-pitch at-bat.
Osorio has yet to give up a run in the NCAA Tournament. Her three appearances have been against against Minnesota, which was ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in the two major pre-tournament polls, and top-seeded Florida.
The fifth inning began with a leadoff walk by freshman first baseman Bailey Hemphill, Alabama’s first base runner since the first inning. With sophomore Mari Cranek in as a pinch-runner the next four batters squared to bunt.
Sophomore catcher Reagan Dykes put hers down in front of the pitcher, with Cranek beating the throw to second. When senior right fielder Chandler Dare put the ball in almost the exact same place, Barnhill (23-3) quickly threw only to see the bail sail past first base, scoring both runners.
Junior shortstop Sydney Booker’s subsequent bunt resulted in another throwing error by the pitcher, who threw before the second baseman could get over to cover first, making it 3-0.
Barnhill was pulled after five-plus innings when Alabama had two on with no outs. She was credited with one hit and one earned run, while striking out 11 and walking three. She threw 94 pitches and was replaced by Aleshia Ocasio, who is generally considered to be Florida’s third pitcher.
Coach Patrick Murphy wanted his batters to be aggressive early in the count, but with Alabama continually unable to hold from swinging at Barnhill’s riseball, at one point the Gators’ ace struck out nine straight batters, a stretch that lasted from the end of the first inning into the fourth.
Coming in, Barnhill’s 0.35 ERA led the nation and her 310 strikeouts were seventh, just behind Osorio’s 318. However, her 13.4 strikeouts per seven innings were first.
What’s next for Alabama softball
Alabama (46-16) and Florida (53-8) will play Game 2 of their Super Regional on Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN.
The winning team of the best-of-three Super Regional will advance to play in the College World Series at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, June 1-7.