TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama softball coach Patrick Murphy called it “an instant classic.”
It took a football-like three hours, 26 minutes to play, before Alabama managed to finally celebrate 9-8 victory over Arizona State in the final game of the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional on Sunday afternoon.
Alabama's 40th straight win in regional play had a little bit of everyting including two ties and two lead changes.
It had the Sun Devils (35-20), who were the home team due to how the bracket played out, building a 5-0 lead after four innings due to two home runs.
It had Alabama’s surprisingly shaky pitching staff walking nine batters, many of which came back to haunt the Crimson Tide.
It had 2,508 folks at Rhoads Stadium, and it had Alabama (55-7) completing another comeback that went down the final out — third baseman Maddie Morgan snaring a liner off the bat of Bella Loomis with two on and two out.
“I have no idea what happened. I don’t remember anything,” Murphy said half-seriously. “I thought I was going to pass out when Bailey (Hemphill) hit the grand slam. Just a great game for our fans, for TV and for you guys (in the media). Just a hell of a championship game.”
Had Morgan not snagged the Loomis liner, the Sun Devils could have tied the game again or worse.
“I’m at a little loss for words,” said Arizona State Coach Trisha Ford. “This was a tough one. Somebody’s got to win, and somebody’s got to lose.
“We fight. That’s what we’re about at ASU.”
Sun Devils center fielder Morgan Howe added, “I think if you’d have told someone we’d score eight runs on Alabama, they’d have said we’d probably win the game.
"Who puts up eight runs on Alabama?”
But Alabama countered with nine, the first on a solo home run by Merris Schroder, followed by Hemphill's grand slam to tie the game in the fifth inning.
“I know she wouldn’t want to walk me obviously because the bases were loaded,” Hemphill said of her blast off Meza Cielo. “I was just looking for a strike to hit. Lucky enough, she left it pretty fat. I knew I had to hit it deep enough just to score a run… but lucky enough, it went over”
With the momentum, the Crimson Tide added three more runs in the sixth behind RBIs by Hemphill, Kaylee Tow and Skylar Wallace.
The deciding run scored in the top of the seventh when KB Sides drove in Schroder on a single to left. Schroder scored from second after ASU third baseman Kiara Kennedy cut the throw home off.
SEC Pitcher of the Year Sarah Cornell started, but struggled, giving up five earned runs in 3 2/3 innings including a pair of home runs. She was followed by 2018 NJCAA Division 1 Pitcher of the Year Krystal Goodman, who yielded a run over two innings.
With four outs to get and up 8-5, Murphy turned to SEC Freshman of the Year Montana Fouts, who also struggled while giving up a pair of runs — one earned — in 1 1/3 frames. After a quick rain delay with one on and one out in the seventh, Fouts (17-4) got the win in relief.
She allowed four hits and two walks and did not record a strikeout, a rarity for the right-hander.
Had Arizona State won, the teams would have played again in a winner-takes-all game for the regional championship.
Alabama will face the winner of the Austin Regional, between host Texas and Houston. The Tuscaloosa Super Regional will start either Thursday or Friday with dates, network coverage and start times to be announced Monday.