By (Ben Boynton)

Coach Patrick Murphy came into Tuesday night with 999 career wins as a head coach at the NCAA level. With the Crimson Tide at Missouri this weekend, the midweek game against Kent State was his best chance to get his milestone victory at home.

Sophomore center fielder Mari Cranek hit a home run to lead-off the sixth inning, and the Crimson Tide delivered its coach his thousandth win in the friendly confines of Rhoads Stadium with a 5-3 win.

“It’s really cool [to reach 1000 wins at home],” Murphy said. “Not only are they the best fans but they’re the most knowledgeable, and when we needed a pick me up, they provided it…Just to do it here in front of the crowd that’s won so many games for us was really cool.”

It was an emotional night for Murphy but also for his players.

“We all think it’s really awesome and special, and it’s really special to be a part of something like that,” Cranek said. “We’re all super happy for him and it’s really exciting.”

Alabama trailed for the fourth straight game after the Golden Flashes scored in the opening inning, but the Crimson Tide added a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning off a two-run double from freshman third baseman Claire Jenkins to take the lead. Junior second baseman Demi Turner drove in a third run in the second inning, but Kent State tied it with two in the third off a home run.

The game was scoreless for two innings until the bottom of the sixth inning, when Cranek came up to bat having hit a long foul ball in her last at-bat. Her home run on the second pitch of her at-bat proved to be the winning run, and Murphy said it’s what he’ll remember the most from this game.

“She’s a spot starter, she’s in because [sophomore] Merris [Schroder] is hurt, and she hit the ball hard foul ball twice, and I kind of screamed at her in the dugout to keep the ball fair and hit it hard, and she did both,” Murphy said. “I think it was the spark that we needed because after that we added an insurance run.”

Junior shortstop Sydney Booker went 3-3 on the day with a double and an RBI later in the inning to give the Crimson Tide its fifth run.

“It was really special, he’s a great guy and he really deserves it,” Booker said. “We’re really happy for him and we’re proud of him. We know he’s a great guy and he does all he can for us so he really deserves this.”

Murphy became the 23rd coach in NCAA softball history to reach the milestone. After the game, a video commemorating the occasion played on the big screen, featuring assistant coach Alyson Habetz, current and former players, Murphy’s mother, Alabama football coach Nick Saban, ESPN commentators Holly Rowe and Jessica Mendoza, and more. Murphy said he didn’t talk about the upcoming milestone to his players, but they were prepared for it.

“We knew about it. We were shooting for it to be Sunday [against South Carolina] but things didn’t work out,” Booker said. “We were determined to get it tonight.”

Next up for the Crimson Tide is the aforementioned road trip to Columbia, Mo. to take on the Missouri Tigers. The three-game series starts on Friday at 6:30 p.m.

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Source:: The Crimson White Sports