Post title Written By Bill Plummer
OKLAHOMA CITY — The last time Oklahoma and Alabama played softball the outcome of the game determined the national champion for 2012.
Alabama won that game by the closest of margins, 5-4, in the rain to become the first SEC team to win the NCAA national softball title.
The two teams met again Thursday night at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium to conclude the opening round of four games of the 2014 WCWS. But The national title of course wasn't at stake this time, but staying out of the loser's bracket was what was at stake.
And Alabama, behind the power pitching of senior right-hander Jaclyn Traina, bounced the Sooners into the loser's bracket before a crowd of 8,818 , 6-2, limiting the defending national champion to only one hit. That was a two-out solo homer to left center by OU third baseman Shelby Pendley in the top of the first inning. It was her 18th of the season and her 75th RBI.
After Pendley's roundtripper, Alabama got a pair of singles and an OU throwing error by catcher Whitney Ellis to tie the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the second. Marisa Runyon's single just inside the right field foul line scored Kaila Kunt with the tying run. Hunt had opened the inning with a walk off losing pitcher Kelsey Stevens before Molly Fichtner singled. With Hunt at second, Ellis threw down attempting to pick her off the bag, but the throw got away from shortstop Georgia Casey and allowed Hunt to advance to third and Fichtner to second before Runyon hit the ball just inside the right field foul line for her 17th RBI of the season.
Stevens allowed two hits in the inning and gave up five more hits before Pendley replaced her in the fifth inning. Stevens had entered the WCWS having allowed 27 homers in the game and needed to not allow any to give the Sooners a chance of beating Alabama, now 7-3 against OU.
Oklahoma regained the lead at 2-1 in the fourth without recording a hit thanks to a walk and pair of Alabama errors.
Sophomore Erin Miller drew her second walk of the game with two outs. Junior Callie Parsons then hit a grounder to the hole at shortstop. Danae Hays tried to get the force at second but her throw pulled second baseman Kaila Hunt off the bag.
With runners on first and second and senior Javen Henson batting, Parsons strayed too far from first on a pitch, prompting a pickoff attempt by Crimson Tide catcher Molly Fichtner. Parsons took off for second and the throw by first baseman Leona Lafaele was wide and went into left field, enabling Miller to score all the way from second base.
The lead would not last long though as Peyton Grantham hit a three-run homer to left center with one out in the fourth to put the Crimson Tide on top at 4-2. Grantham entered the game hitting .232, lowest on the team and had hit only four homer. It was her fifth homer of the season and couldn't have come at a better time for Alabama, which won two close game in the Super Regional, 6-5 and 2-1 to advance and qualify for the ninth time for the WCWS..
In the sixth Stevens (37-9) struck out Haylie McCleney to open the inning before giving up a single to Kallie Case and a two-run homer by Jadyn Spencer over left center field to conclude the Alabama scoring. After Spencer's 13th homer of the season, Pendley replaced Stevens in the circle to conclude the game, not allowing any hits while striking out two and walking one.
After scoring its second run on an Alabama error in the fourth inning, the Sooners only got to second against Traina, who is easily the fastest throwing hurler in the WCWS, hitting clockings of 71 miles per hour. She fanned nine and walked five in collecting her 24th win of the season and advancing Alabama to one of two winner's bracket games Friday evening.
”I feel like we had a little uncharacteristic approach tonight,” OU head coach Patty Gasso said. “I know that we're a better offensive team. We hit a few balls hard. We had a couple of opportunities.”
Alabama (51-11) will face Kentucky at 8:30 (Central time) in the second game Friday with Florida facing No. 1 seed Oregon in the 6 p.m. (Central time) opening game. The loser's bracket will start on Saturday at 11 a.m. (CT) with Baylor facing Florida followed by OU and Louisiana-Lafayette at 1:30 p.m.
In the opening game, No. 5 Florida made short work of No. 13th seed Baylor, winning 11-0 in five innings in a game that took 1:46 minutes. The Gators' 11 runs tied for theseventh most in WCWS history and are the most since Arizona State scored 14 runs against Florida (6-6-2011). Florida's 11 runs were the most in an opening game in WCWS history and the 11-run margin of victory was the largest in an opening game.
Florida hurler Hannah Rogers improved to 27-8 this season, hurling a complete game shutout, allowing three hits with no walks and three strikeouts.
Baylor senior Whitney Canion fell to 31-11 on the season and allowed five runs (two earned) in 3.1 innings of work. Canion gave up four hitd and two walks while striking out two. Heather Stearns relieved her and allowed five hits and six runs in 2/3 of an inning.
One of Florida's nine hits was a grand slam homer in the fifth inning by pinch hitter Chelsea Herndon off high school teammate Stearns to end the game. It was the ninth grand slam in the WCWS and the first since Florida's Brittany Schutte hit one against Alabama June 5, 2011. The home run was Herndon's third on the season while the four RBIs marked a career high.
Florida sophomore Kristi Merritt went 2-for-3 with two runs and one RBI. She hit a single in the first inning and a solo homer in the third inning. The homer was Merritt's 12th of the season and the second in her NCAA Tournament career. She hit one against Washington in the Super Regional final last Sunday.
No. 1 seeded and ranked Oregon blanked Florida State, 3-0, in the second game behind the one-hit pitching of southpaw Cheridan Hawkins. Hawkins allowed only a lead-off single by Maddie O'Brien in the first inning to collect her 34th win of the season throwing 134 pitches. She walked two and struck out six. At one point in the game, she retired 16 consecutive batters after a one-out walk in the first inning before FSU got a runner aboard on an error in the sixth inning. Hawkins is now 4-0 in the post-season with 36 strikeouts in 30.2 innings (five earned runs). The one hit by FSU was its lowest hit total this season. Previous low was three on two occasions.
Oregon opened the scoring in the bottom of the first inning on an RBI groundout by sophomore Janelle Lindvall that brought home Alyssa Gillespie from third base. Oregon added its second run in the bottom of the second on a single up the middle by freshman Nikki Udria that scored Alexa Peterson from second base. The third and final run came in fifth inning on an RBI double by Peterson, scoring Koral Costa from second.
The win was Oregon's 55th of the season, breaking the previous mark of 54 in 1989. The Ducks (55-7-1) pounded out 11 hits and it was the sixth time in the past seven games that they have had 10 or more hits. Oregon is now 3-4 all-time in the WCWS. Florida State fell to 6-15 all-time in its eighth WCWS appearance in its 30th year of women's fast pitch softball.
Pitcher Lacey Waldrop took the FSU loss (38-6) allowing 10 hits and three runs in five innings. Jessica Burroughs finished the game pitching one inning allowing one hit.
Kentucky surprised Louisiana-Lafayette in the third of four games, 4-1, with Kelsey Nunley allowing only one hit to get her 30th win of the season against nine losses. Kentucky is making its WCWS debut after shocking UCLA in the Super Regional.
Nunley threw 126 pitches and walked five and struck out seven in keeping the hard-hitting Ragin' Cajuns off stride. Louisiana-LaFayette had entered the game with 88 homers and a .307 team batting average. The only hit Nunley allowed was a solo homer by Lexie Elkins in the first inning with two out. It was her fifth homer in the postseason and her 23rd of the season. It was the first time this season that Louisiana-Lafayette had been one-hit.
Lauren Cumbess went two-for-three for the Wildcats and drove in a pair of runs including her 10th homer of the season to lead off the fourth inning. She had an RBI double in the first inning. DP Ginny Carroll hit a sac fly to bring home a run in the second inning.
Junior Christina Hamilton went the distance to take the loss and is now 29-3 on the season. She allowed five hits and four runs while walking three and striking out two. Two of the runs were earned.
Bill Plummer A 1973 graduate of Indiana University, Ind. Bill has been involved in softball for more than five decades. For 30 years he was a fixture at the ASA National Office in Oklahoma City as a communications coordinator, manager of the ASA National Softball Hall of Fame and historian.
In addition, he also served as the editor of the ASA official newsletter, The Inside Pitch, and as the Trade Show manager. He has written widely about the sport and has contributed to 14 books. In 2008, he authored “The Game America Plays.” In 2012, he co-authored “Best of the Best-Women’s Fastpitch.” In 2013 he co-authored “A Series Of Their Own”. Visit his website at PlummerSoftball.com.
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