TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It was the showdown that lived up to its billing at the NCAA Tournament’s Tuscaloosa Regional on Saturday, University of Alabama softball junior starter Alexis Osorio against Minnesota senior Sara Groenewegen. Fittingly, they needed extra innings to determine a winner.
Groenewegen ended up blinking first in the ninth inning, when her only walk brought in the winning run as Alabama pulled out a 1-0 victory.
“That was one heck of a game,” Crimson Tide coach Patrick Murphy said. “We all assumed it was going to be something like 2-1, 1-0. Maybe 3-2.
“Those are two of the best pitchers in the country going at it.”
Junior second baseman Demi Turner led off the bottom ninth with a single, but she was out at second on a fielder’s choice on freshman center fielder Elissa Brown’s bunt attempt. Senior right fielder Chandler Dare singled to center with one out, followed by senior designated player Marisa Runyon being hit by a pitch to load the bases.
That left freshman slugger Bailey Hemphill only needing a fly ball to the outfield to win the game. Instead, she fouled out, but sophomore catcher Reagan Dykes got ahead 3-0 in the count and took the five-pitch walk. Groenewegen stayed on the hill after the call, thinking she had hit the strike zone on the pitch.
“It was close,” Dykes said about the final pitch. “But [based] on previous batters earlier in the game it was like 50-50 on whether he was going to call it or not. It was the same with Alexis.”
— espnW (@espnW) May 20, 2017
Both teams had their chances late in the game, beginning with rallies in the seventh. After Minnesota was unable to take advantage of a walk and hit-batter, Gophers left fielder Sam Macken made a diving catch to rob Dare of an extra-base hit. It ended up being crucial with Hemphill’s subsequent hit. However, after pinch-runner Mari Cranek stole second, Dykes flied out on a changeup.
Minnesota broke up Osorio’s no-hitter with a leadoff single up the middle in the eighth, and went on to load the bases with nine-hitter Allie Arneson drawing a 14-pitch walk and All-American Kendyl Lindaman intentionally walked. But the Gophers again failed to score.
Player of the game
For both teams, it was the pitcher.
“They were both unbelievable,” Minnesota coach Jessica Allister said. “Sara pitched her guts out.”
Osario (22-7, 1.17 ERA) threw all 9 innings, yielding 2 hits and no runs with 11 strikeouts and 5 walks. She threw 180 pitches. The 11 Ks were a season high for the Gophers.
Minnesota came into the game having struck out just 154 times in 58 games, an average of 2.7 per game. The previous season high was 9 at LSU by Carley Hoover, a 3-0 victory for the Gophers. Second most was 7 during a 3-2 loss to Washington.
Minnesota also entered the game with a .350 team batting average, having scored 433 runs (7.5 per game).
Groenewegen (30-3, 0.59) threw 8.2 innings, yielding 4 hits and the 1 run, with 10 strikeouts. She threw 125 pitches.
Turner made her first start since April 1, batting ninth in the order. She had Alabama’s first hit of the day, to left, and then subsequently stole second, going in head-first to beat the tag. She went 2 for 3 at the plate, and had five putouts and two assists defensively.
Turner was sidelined because of vision problems stemming from a concussion/orbital fracture. After pinch-running during the final regular-season series and the SEC Tournament, she was medically cleared for a full return on Monday.
What’s next for Alabama
Alabama gets to take the rest of Saturday off, and will face the surviving team between Albany (27-17), Louisiana Tech (37-23) and Minnesota (55-4) on Sunday afternoon.
The first two were slated to pay at 4:15 p.m. ET Saturday, only to be delayed when a thunderstorm rolled through Tuscaloosa right after the completion of the first game. The winner advances to subsequently face the Gophers in the double-elimination format.