Arizona’s No.11 softball team entered Game 1 of the Women’s College World Series first round with a lot of momentum after Arkansas’ two-game sweep in the Super Regionals last week. It wasn’t the perfect start to the tournament Arizona was looking for as they would meet their game in Alabama, losing 5-1 on Thursday, June 3 at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, OK.
The story of the game was Alabama’s ace pitcher, Montana Fouts. She entered Thursday’s game with a 25-3 record, a 1.46 earned-run average and an incredible 330 strikeouts. Against one of the best teams in the country in Arizona, Fouts showed everyone why she’s almost untouchable and was one of the best pitchers in college softball this season.
Fouts then delivered a masterpiece taking out 16 of the 22 batters she faced. During one stretch, she struck out eight straight Arizona batters and even put the team out four times, while 12 of her strikeouts came via her rising ball. In front of a national audience, Fouts claimed his rising ball could be the most untouchable field in all of college softball. In the process, she made an important Arizona offense look very average as she allowed just two hits in seven innings pitched.
Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy spoke about Fouts’ incredible outing and where she ranks among the great performances he has seen in his coaching career.
“One of the best,” Murphy said. “I couldn’t believe it because I keep the stats in the dark. What a performance, they are a great batting team [Arizona]. Nothing to take away, it’s a hell of a batting team and for a kid [Fouts] doing that against a legitimate Arizona team … it was pretty special to watch.
A game of this brevity means there is a high probability that there will be alumni from both teams present. One of those alumni was Jenny Finch who won a national title with Arizona in 2001 and is considered one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the program. Interestingly enough, Finch also happens to be one of the models for Montana Fouts. Fouts spoke of what it was like to throw in front of the woman she’s admired her entire life on the biggest stage.
“I think that’s pretty cool,” Fouts said. “She is one of my role models and I have admired her all my life and I still am [as] big fan now as I was then. I think it’s pretty cool that our team won and we played well on both sides of the ball. “
Alabama struck first thanks to a Janelle Meono error that allowed Bailey Hemphill to score from second. Arizona had only been responsible for seven field errors throughout the regular season. Meono’s mistake would already make eleven mistakes in just six games for the Wildcats at this year’s NCAA tournament. However, Meono would quickly find redemption on the ensuing play as she did a nice catch in deep left field to prevent another run from scoring. The Crimson Tide would strike again in the third inning via a Hemphill home run to deep left field. Which makes it a 2-0 advantage from the start.
RELATED: It’s time to find out what the Arizona Softball Team is all about
The Wildcats’ sticks could barely make contact with the ball to aid their efforts as their first hit of the game came early in the fourth inning as Meono delivered a start single to get things going for the Arizona. On the play that followed, Reyna Carranco would reach the base safely after a field error by the Crimson Tide. However, just as the Wildcats took a huge break and a swing, Carranco was called out by the second base umpire after coming out of the batting area before putting the ball in play. The late appeal ended. by being the turning point of the game because it was a huge brake on Arizona’s return hopes. Their bad luck continued into the next game as Jessie Harper made a double play to end the round.
A 2-0 lead for Alabama was the worst-case scenario for Arizona. The Wildcats knew they were going to have a field-for-field game with Fouts if they had any chance of winning that game. They couldn’t afford to give up more than one point knowing the big pitcher they were up against. Hannah Bowen has done all she can to slow Alabama’s prolific lineup. Still, her efforts weren’t enough as she allowed two pivot points on four hits, two walks and just three strikeouts in four innings pitched.
Hoping to slow down Alabama’s bats and give her team a chance to win the game in the end, Alyssa Denham came in relief for Bowen in the fifth inning. Denham did his part by pulling the team out and keeping the Crimson Tide 2-0 ahead. However, in the sixth inning, Alabama gave Denham a three run, which more than sealed the victory of the tide given the dominance of Fouts.
Maddie Morgan kicked off Alabama in the sixth as she hit an RBI brace at left center field to give her team an insurance run. The Crimson Tide wouldn’t stop there as Abby Doer would seal Arizona’s fate in that game with a two-run homerun to left center field and put it to a 5-0 lead in Alabama. The only bright spot in this game for Arizona came when, until their last strike, Harper ended Fouts’ shutout attempt as she fired a missile at a 2-2 count overhead. of the left central field wall.
This game will be a tough pill to swallow for Arizona knowing they were outplayed by Alabama every phase of the game. A result they won’t be happy with considering how they dismantled the SEC regular-season champions in Arkansas during last week’s Super Regional and how Fouts made them pedestrian in that game. Arizona head coach Mike Candrea reflected on his team’s performance and didn’t seem in sync with his team facing elimination on Saturday.
“We made a few mistakes, but I think overall [we] competed and did a good job, ”Candrea said. “I felt like going into the last set with a 2-0 game would be a little different. I thought Reyna [Carranco] call kind of changed a bit of momentum in the game. We’re in the College World Series, that’s what’s happening and we just need to reset and move on. We will continue to do what we normally do. We have a day off tomorrow, but we’ll be practicing, hitting and getting ready for Saturday.
Arizona will look to avoid elimination and save their season as they face Florida State in a losing streak on Saturday, June 5 at 11:30 am MST.
Follow Bryan Savic on Twitter