In the wake of all the fantasy about titles in this state the last few weeks, it’s weird actually talking about a real championship on the line. But the University of Alabama softball team will go for just that beginning tonight in Oklahoma City.
In a match-up Sunday between the World Series Tournament’s top two seeds, No. 2 Alabama shut-out No. 1 seed Oregon 2-0 to advance to a best of three series to determine who’ll take home the hardware.
Behind the stellar pitching of Jaclyn Traina (26-3), the Tide shut down the normally potent Oregon (56-9-1) offense, limiting the Ducks to just four hits while striking out eight. Traina has now struck out 23 batters over 21.0 innings pitched in the Women’s College World Series, allowing just one earned run off nine hits.
Bama got to Sunday’s match up with a 6-2 win over home-standing Oklahoma on Thursday night, and a 2-0 nail biter over Kentucky Friday evening.
Haylie McCleney went 2-4 out of the leadoff position, hitting her 10th home run of the season to break the scoreless tie in the fifth inning. Molly Fichtner drove in the second RBI of the day off a single later in the same inning. The Ducks started Karissa Hovinga in the circle, who threw 3.1 scoreless innings before being replaced by First Team All-American Cheridan Hawkins (35-6), who took the loss in relief.
McCleney broke the scoreless tie in the bottom of the fifth, leading off the half-inning with a solo home run into the right-field stands to make it 1-0. The home run was her first since May 1 at Missouri. With two outs in the inning and Hunt at first base, Fichtner dropped a single in front of a sliding Oregon center fielder that bounced past her. The hop allowed Hunt to score all the way from first, sliding under the tag attempt at home to make it a 2-0 ballgame.
In the bottom of the sixth, Traina led off the inning with a single up the middle and Ryan Iamurri, pinch-hitting, reached on a bunt single that got past the third baseman to put two on with nobody out. Chaunsey Bell, pinch-hitting, reached on a fielder’s choice as the force out was applied at third. A fly out and caught stealing ended the half-inning but put Alabama just three outs away from advancing to the Women’s College World Series championship series.
Kailee Cuico ended Traina’s streak of 11-straight batters retired with a single into right field to lead off the top of the seventh for Oregon. Janelle Lindvall took a huge swing on the 2-2 pitch. The ball had the distance for the game-tying home run, but fell foul by about five feet down the left-field side. Bama’s dominant pitcher bounced back with the next pitch to catch her looking at strike number three for the first out. A foul fly ball went for out number two but Koral Costa kept the game alive with a single to left, putting two on with two out. Freshman Sammie Puentes came in to pinch hit for the Ducks as the potential winning run, but she ultimately struck out as Traina caught her swinging for out number three, giving Traina her eighth strikeout of the day and Alabama the 2-0 win to advance to its second Women’s College World Series championship series in three years.
The Tide will face the Florida Gators (53-12) for a real national championship beginning tonight in the first-ever meeting between two SEC schools in the WCWS championship series. The Gators defeated Baylor 6-3 earlier on Sunday. It will be the fourth time Alabama and Florida have met in the WCWS. The Tide took two out of three games from the Gators in Gainesville earlier this season. First pitch of game one is set for 7:05 p.m. CT, aired live on ESPN2.
(Report and photo courtesy of RollTide.com)