So a few Alabama softball players raided the other dugout to complete its postgame celebration. With a jug from the Michigan bench, the last Crimson Tide coach went home soggy in what’s becoming a familiar scene.
The 4-3 comeback win over Michigan in the NCAA super regionals sent Alabama to the Women’s College World Series for the fourth time in five years. Head coach Patrick Murphy took his ice-water bath while preparing for a live television interview. His assistants came next.
The 2,557 in Rhoads Stadium witnessed a scene similar to the one two weeks ago when No. 2 Alabama (55-7) took the SEC crown. This time, the bigger goal is within reach after sweeping Michigan in the best-of-three series.
“It’s huge. I think it’s portrayed that it’s not that hard to get there, but it’s very hard to get to the World Series,” Tide short stop fielder Kaila Hunt said.
She had quite a say in putting the team back in Oklahoma City for a Thursday opener with either Tennessee or Georgia.
Her two-run homer to left tied the game at 3 after Michigan appeared to have control. Scoring one in the first and two in the second, the Wolverines were hitting Tide pitcher Jackie Traina hard.
But Hunt’s blast changed every dynamic in the game.
“The whole country will ask why I didn’t walk Kaila Hunt with a runner on first base,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. “And I’ll spend the rest of the day wondering why I didn’t.”
That coaching decision led to another.
Murphy said he was right on the fence on the debate over his pitcher. Keep Traina in down two runs or save her for the potential winner-take-all later in the day.
“We had one hit on the scoreboard forever, and I was like, are we going to do something here?” Murphy said.
“Ah, maybe that fifth inning,” Murphy said. “It was getting down to the nitty gritty.”
Still, it was tied and Michigan had the last at-bat as the home team. Kayla Braud took care of that.
The left fielder’s triple to left scored Priceville freshman Danielle Richard from third in the top of the sixth. Richard pinch ran after catcher Kendall Dawson’s lead-off single set the wheels in motion. A sacrifice bunt and stolen base had Richard on third.
Braud smoked one past first base that allowed Richard to walk home and do a little celebrating after arriving.
“I can’t explain it,” Richard said as the team partied on the field. “It was just so awesome to see Braud get that hit. It was just amazing. And I’m just glad to be a part of this Alabama team.”
Traina (37-2) then settled in to finish off Michigan following a rocky start. Four of her five strikeouts came in the final three innings after giving up a solo homer in the first and two unearned runs in the second.
“I came out and wasn’t throwing the best pitches I could throw,” Traina said. “My team gets me fired up, and when I got out there on the mound, I put my foot down and said to myself this is not going to happen.”
Instead, it was the opposite.
And as a result, Alabama is five games from winning its first softball national title.
Michael Casagrande covers University of Alabama sports for The Star.