TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama softball team claimed its ninth consecutive NCAA regional title and 11th overall as it raced past Western Kentucky University 13-1 on Sunday afternoon in the NCAA tournament Tuscaloosa Regional at Rhoads Stadium.
With the victory the Crimson Tide improves to 45-13. It will take on Southeastern Conference rival University of Tennessee (47-10) in the NCAA tournament Super Regionals. That best-of-three series will start at 6 p.m. Friday in Knoxville, Tenn. Game two will be at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“I want to congratulate Western Kentucky,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. “They had a great year and represented themselves and the Sun Belt Conference very well. For their first appearance in an NCAA Regional — I know it was a tough day today, but I didn’t think they looked like a first-timer Friday or Saturday. I am sure they will be back because they have a lot of young, really good kids.
“Second, we always say we are going to save the best for last and peak at the right time and (today) was probably the best we have played all year. I watched their left-handed pitcher yesterday and I was thinking to myself, ‘I hope she doesn’t pitch against us’ because I thought she did a really good job against USC Upstate, (but) they did start her. Our defense was very good and we had 15 hits, so I am a happy coach.”
Alabama junior pitcher Jackie Traina (19-6) allowed just one hit and struck out two in four innings. The Crimson Tide plated the 13 runs on 15 hits to improve to 41-9 all-time in regional action.
“I felt great,” Traina said. “Leslie Jury came in (for me) and did a great job and that’s why we have a (pitching) staff, that’s what they’re for. Lauren Sewell could have been put in the same position. I am confident in them.”
The Crimson Tide’s speed wreaked havoc on the Lady Toppers (43-18) as senior Kayla Braud, and the freshman tandem of Haylie McCleney and Andrea Hawkins recorded three hits apiece. Braud capped the tournament with eight hits and moved her hitting streak to 23 games.
“We wanted to try to make a statement,” Braud said. “I thought we did a really good job. They are a great team — obviously they made it to the Tuscaloosa Regional Championship. I thought like coach Murphy said we are starting to peak at the right time, and I thought we got a lot of timely hits and Jackie Traina pitched great, (and we) played really great defense.”
Small ball continued to work for Alabama as they manufactured a run to open the game in the first. After back-to-back infield singles by Braud and McCleney, Hunt put down a sac-bunt that set up a Molly Fichtner sac-fly to left-center that easily scored Braud from third.
Alabama opened the floodgates in the second inning, scoring six runs to take a 7-0 lead. Sophomore Danielle Richard led off the inning with a solo home run and then after a Courtney Conley run on a passed ball, Hunt smashed a grand slam for her 15th home run on the season.
“It helps any team when you have good hitters,” Richard said. “Today — like Kaila Hunt said — we just had timely hitting. We had a lot of successful bunts today with Jadyn Spencer and Danae Hays laying down good bunts. It’s all about all of it coming together.”
The Tide pushed its lead to 9-0 with a pair of runs in the fourth inning, with Fichtner starting the scoring with a sharp liner to left, followed by Richard adding another RBI with a sac-fly to center.
Alabama wrapped up its scoring with three more runs in the fifth. McCleney ripped a two-run single up the middle and then Fichtner drove in her third run on the day on a groundout to short. In her final at-bat at Rhoads Stadium senior Jackey Branham ripped an RBI double off the wall in left-center to give the Tide a 13-0 lead.