By (Kelly Ward)

Marisa Runyon was struggling.

She didn’t have a hit in seven at-bats at the Tuscaloosa Super Regional and the last time she came up to bat with the bases loaded, she struck out to end Alabama’s rally in Friday’s 5-2 loss to Oklahoma.

Runyon was struggling until she saw the first pitch.

In one swing, she gave Alabama a 5-3 lead with the game-winning grand slam to send the team to Oklahoma City.

“It felt good, but the best part was greeting my team at the plate,” Runyon said.

The dugout erupted before running out to greet “Home” Runyon as she crossed the plate.

“Joy, absolute joy, indescribable joy for one another,” senior catcher Chaunsey Bell said. “Our saying last year was mudita — to have joy for someone like you did it yourself — and each year we just try to build on our one word and that was it, just mudita for everyone.”

Alexis Osorio was tired.

The right-hander pitched a one-hit shutout earlier to keep Alabama softball’s season alive. She already struck out the career home run leader Lauren Chamberlain with the bases loaded in the first game of the day. She had already survived two scares in the first inning of the rubber match.

Osorio was tired.

It didn’t matter.

“There was [some fatigue], but I couldn’t let that affect me,” Osorio said. “I had to do whatever I could for the team.”

Osorio powered through for her second win of the day to send Alabama to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series. She pitched seven innings. The only at-bat she wasn’t in for was Chamberlain’s second home run of the day. Sophomore right-hander Sydney Littlejohn came in for relief and left after that at-bat.

Osorio (21-8) threw more than 300 pitches over the weekend in the freshman pitching duel between herself and Oklahoma ace left-hander Paige Parker.

“I mean, when I took her out, she’s got a big smile on her face and you gotta love her for that, and I said, ‘You’re not done so don’t think you’re done, but we’re going to put Sydney in for a second,’” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. “Just her demeanor is — I’ve said it over and over, it’s just [unbelievable] for a freshman, and I don’t know how the hell she did it today, but it was unbelievable.”

Alabama was in a tight spot.

A leadoff walk to Chamberlain was about to turn into a two-run home run with no outs in the first inning. Shelby Pendley, No. 6 on the career home run list, put the ball over the center field fence.

But not out of the reach of centerfielder Haylie McCleney.

Alabama was in a tight spot.

A bunt single and a walk loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the first. Georgia Casey hit a ball into shallow right-center. There was no one there.

And then McCleney dove for it.

“She might’ve saved the game on the two catches, not just the one,” Murphy said. “She took away a two-run home run and then she took away I don’t know how many runs on the dive in right-center. She definitely set the tone ‘cause if they score there, it’s a little bit of a downer for us. And she makes those two great plays and now we feel very good about ourselves.

“That’s typical Haylie though.”

Alabama needed all of this to happen to make it back to Oklahoma City. After the Crimson Tide blew a 2-0 lead in the sixth inning Friday and forced a must-win situation Saturday, Murphy said the team would stay out as long as it needed to Saturday to get two wins.

“The crowd was unbelievable too, thanks to everyone who came out,” Murphy said. “And they stayed which is just a testament to them and how much they love softball and never could’ve done it without them, no way.”

The team did it. First a 2-0 shutout and then a 5-3 comeback. Both were in front of a capacity crowd of 3,940.

“[Alabama is] a great team, great crowd,” Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso said. “It is very difficult to get things done here. It just, it is what it is, and they’re players were clutch, and that’s what it is when you’re in postseason. It’s about being clutch.”

Now, 6-seed Alabama (47-13) is headed to Oklahoma City to face 3-seed Michigan (56-6) on Thursday. The time is yet to be determined. Earlier in the year, Michigan took both games it played at Alabama. The first was 8-2 and the second 4-1.

“We played them twice here,” Murphy said. “We know they’re very good. They beat us twice, soundly. I think they’re probably improved. We’re definitely improved, and it’s going to be a great matchup.”

Source:: The Crimson White Sports