By Stacey Kilpatrick
My father must be joking.
Such was the phrase ringing in my head upon hearing him ask me, “Aren’t you tired of watching college softball?” I held my head in my hands as I shrugged at the remark while watching No. 2 Alabama was face a 9-2 deficit against No. 4 Florida in the elimination game Sunday night.
I have been obsessed with the sport of softball for the three weeks that ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU have been broadcasting the Women’s College World Series. So obsessed, in fact, that I will not go out with you to the bar. I will schedule my other game coverage around Alabama. I have been content to plop myself down on my futon and leave only to grab some Gatorade and a tuna sandwich.
This past Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday were the double-elimination rounds. Eight teams were whittled down to four and four down to the final two for the championship.
Alabama, Baylor, Arizona State and Florida all won their opening games to start out (1-0) over California, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Missouri, respectively. But here it was, Sunday night at 9:35 p.m., a smile long-gone from my face, as Alabama was trailing Florida by seven runs with its final three outs left against Gator freshman pitcher Hannah Rogers.
With Whitney Larsen at the plate, Rogers made a mistake and saw Larsen triple down the right field line to score Jennifer Fenton and get ‘Bama across for its first run of game 2. Earlier in the inning, Jackie Traina walked putting runners at the corners for the Crimson Tide. Jazlyn Lunceford struck out, Cassie Reilly-Boccia singled to center field, and Keima Davis, pinch running for Traina, advanced to second as Larsen came home for a 9-2 score.
Perhaps a little momentum could go a long way for Alabama.
The Tide’s Kaila Hunt reached on a fielder’s choice, forcing Reilly-Boccia for the second out. With Davis advancing to third, Alabama faced its final out. Florida’s Hanna Rogers turned Alabama’s Kendall Dawson into Gator bait with a strikeout as Florida won.
All Alabama needed to do was beat Florida to secure their spot in the championship. The Crimson Tide beat Cal 1-0 on Thursday and Baylor 3-0 on Friday, going 2-0. Florida lost 6-5 on an Arizona State walk-off Friday night and was one loss away from being eliminated from the tournament.
Sunday was ‘Bama’s day to toss the Gators and move ahead. But instead, they themselves were demoralized in game 1, losing 16-2, forcing the ‘if necessary’ where Alabama was ultimately taken out of contention.
It was never a day for optimism for Tide fans, as Alabama faced an 11-0 deficit in the first inning of Game 1, the most runs ever scored in the first inning of a Women’s College World Series game.
Alabama senior pitcher Kelsi Dunne probably gave the best performance of her career Thursday night in her win over Cal, but on Sunday she played her worst, and freshman Traina couldn’t help either. The Gators smacked a home run, walked to score several runs with the bases juiced and for good measure, Brittany Schutte hit a grand slam to all but seal Alabama’s fate.
‘Bama’s two runs came from homers by Lunceford and Larsen, but Alabama played uncharacteristically poor softball.
Six runs were the most the Crimson Tide had allowed in a game all year, and Sunday they gave up 16 to Florida in the first game of the day. Dunne, Traina and freshman Lauren Sewell each pitched and combined for 4.0 innings while allowing eight hits, eight walks and merely struck out two with 29 batters faced. Florida senior Stephanie Brombacher threw 5.0 innings, allowed three hits, two runs, zero walks and earned seven strikeouts while facing 18 batters.
An SEC team is still in this, as Florida, the 2009 runner-ups to the University of Washington Huskies, are seeking their first (and the SEC’s first) WCWS title.
No. 1 Arizona State University, boasting 58 victories and backed behind freshman star, Dallas Escobedo, is chasing their second chance to hold the trophy after doing so in 2008.
Monday night at 8 p.m. ET will be a pitcher’s duel, between, most likely, freshmen Rogers and Escobedo.
Either the Gators will chomp their way to a historical victory or the ASU Devils will raise their pitchforks high in the Oklahoma City air.
You best believe that I will be stuck on my futon for the next two, possibly three days.