TUSCALOOSA, Ala. —The long ball returned to Rhoads Stadium in a big way Friday as the University of Alabama softball team won its opening game the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional with a 5-1 victory over Albany.
Sophomore catcher Reagan Dykes hit a solo home run down the left-field line in the second inning, and freshman first baseman Bailey Hemphill drilled a 2-run shot to left that essentially put the game out of reach in the fifth.
“It felt good off the bat,” Hemphill said. “They told me it went over the grandstand.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ball go that far,” said junior pitcher Devin Durando (8-4), who took the loss for Albany.
Dykes’ home run was Alabama’s first in the stadium since third baseman Peyton Grantham’s grand slam against UAB on April 11. It was also the Crimson Tide’s first multiple-home run game since April 1 at Missouri and first multiple-home run game at home since March 5 against Jacksonville.
Senior designated player Marisa Runyon had the Crimson Tide’s other RBI off a single in the third inning.
After Alabama (43-16) popped up or flew out eight times in the the first four innings, associate head coach Alyson Habetz said told the players they looked like they had “bat lag.” With the subsequent adjustments, the Crimson Tide rallied to put the game out of reach.
Although she didn’t get any hits in the game, freshman center fielder Elissa Brown reached base 3 times on walks, stole a base and scored 2 runs.
Turner returns to the field
Alabama’s Demi Turner saw her first regular action when she entered in the game in the sixth inning at second base and received a standing ovation from the Rhoads Stadium crowd. The junior pinch-ran during the final regular-season series against Auburn and during the SEC Tournament, but was finally cleared to hit and play in the field on Monday.
She drew a four-pitch walk in her first at-bat, in the sixth inning.
Turner had extended vision problems after suffering a concussion and orbital fracture at Missouri on April 1. Turner is batting .387 and has multihit games in 11 of her 37 starts.
Now playing second base for @AlabamaSB, Demi Turner.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) May 19, 2017
Big pitching decision
With the potential to play twice both on Saturday and Sunday, Alabama coach Patrick Murphy decided to start sophomore left-hander Madi Moore and rest junior Alexis Osorio (21-7, 1.29 ERA). He had hoped to save senior Sydney Littlejohn as well, but couldn’t take any more chances when the score was 1-1 in the third inning.
Coming in, Moore was 6-1 with a 3.21 ERA and had established herself as Alabama’s midweek starter.
“I told Madi afterwards the greatest thing you can take away from this is I have the confidence in you to give you the ball for the most important game of the year,” Murphy said. “I thought she could do it.”
After Moore gave up a run and hit 3 batters, including one in the head, Patrick pulled her in favor of Littlejohn, who pitched out of a two-on, two-out jam in the third inning.
She allowed just 1 hit and 2 baserunners, the other off a hit batter, over 4 2/3 innings to get the win (16-8) and drop her ERA to 1.29. Littlejohn threw 58 pitches, striking out 7 and with no walks.
“That’s a nasty curveball, the likes of which we haven’t see all season,” Albany coach Mikala McCauley said.
Moore threw 2.1 innings, with 1 earned run, 3 strikeouts and no walks.
Player of the game
Murphy usually gives the lineup card to the player he thinks was the MVP. It went to Dykes, who went 2 for 3 with the home run, but also threw out 2 base-runners.
“The two pickoffs were huge,” Murphy said.
What’s next for Alabama softball
Alabama’s win sets up the first showdown with unseeded Minnesota (55-3), in a winner’s-bracket game, Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET, as each game was moved up two hours because of the threat of inclement weather. The loser will play again at 5:30 p.m. ET in an elimination game. Albany (27-17) will play Louisiana Tech (37-23) in a loser’s bracket game Saturday afternoon.