With their SEC Tournament dreams on the line and the game tied, Alabama ace Montana Fouts struck out yet another Arkansas batter for her ninth strikeout of the night. But it was immediately clear something wasn’t right.
After an awkward landing on her plant leg mid-pitch, the Alabama infield surrounded the senior as she tried to push through the pain to finish the game. After her second practice pitch ended in a clear wince from Fouts, it was clear she would be unable to continue. Sophomore Alex Salter would be forced to step in – with no bullpen warmup – and close the game out for the Crimson Tide.
Two innings later, Alabama would celebrate an epic 3-2 win to advance to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament.
“First thing I thought of afterwards, you know the 30-for-30 ‘what if I told you’ and played the scenario out. I don’t think anybody would believe me,” said Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy.
“It’s one of those games, you know. Definitely a Bama U moment. Old school Alabama softball was [played] tonight.”
Thursday night’s nail-biter was a low-scoring affair, as both Alabama and Arkansas struggled to drive runs in. Both teams combined to strand 23 runners over the three-hour game. The Crimson Tide failed to capitalize on a number of opportunities, going just 3-16 on the night with runners in scoring position.
But it took just one swing to right all of the night’s wrongs.
Bailey Downing hit a double down the left-field line after a nine-pitch at-bat to bring in two runners in the ninth inning, allowing Alabama to take a 3-1 lead. The pair of RBIs came seven innings after a Razorback error allowed the first run of the game.
Arkansas would give Alabama fans a scare in the bottom of the ninth – after scoring on a communication error in mid-center field – but ultimately ground out to end the game just two batters later.
Salter earned the win in relief, improving her record to 7-3 on the season. Despite walking four batters in just two innings pitched, the sophomore allowed just one run. This came despite several high-pressure situations – multiple runners on base – thanks to a momentum-fueled Arkansas.
In the just-over six innings she pitched, Fouts recorded nine strikeouts. She would finish the night with a 1.44 ERA – just five hits allowed over her 108-pitch night.
On the Razorback side, reigning SEC pitcher of the year Chenise Delce would put up a stellar fight in the losing effort. Delce recorded a 1.86 ERA, allowing just nine hits over her 165 total pitches thrown.
Murphy offered no update on Fouts’ condition following the game, nor any specifics about the injury. He did however state that it was always Alabama’s plan to only have Fouts pitch the opening two games of the SEC Tournament, with the other games being “theirs to win” [referring to the other Crimson Tide pitchers].
With the win, Alabama improves to 40-17 on the season (15-10 SEC) and advances to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament. The Crimson Tide will face the winner of No. 8 Florida versus No. 1 Tennessee Friday night, 35 minutes after the conclusion of the other semifinal game.
Follow Nicholas Pursley on Twitter @nicholaspursley.