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18 May 2008

Tide Sinks Gamecocks: JSU's Early Lead Wiped Out by Alabama Bats

By Al Muskewitz
Star Sports Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

TUSCALOOSA For four and a half innings, an underdog Jacksonville State team kept everyone in the Alabama Softball Complex wondering whether the teams on the field would be playing into the night for a spot in the NCAA Super Regionals.

The Gamecocks led with nine outs to go, but even then JSU coach Jana McGinnis knew her team was sitting on a ticking time bomb.

Alabama's bats finally came to life in the fifth inning and washed the Gamecocks out to sea in their wake. The Tide got three consecutive homers for the first time in school history and went on to claim a 4-1 victory to win the Tuscaloosa Regional of the NCAA softball tournament.

The Tide (54-6), the national No. 3 seed and a 10-1 winner against JSU on Friday, will play either Missouri or Iowa in the super regionals here next weekend.

"With Alabama, you can never get comfortable," McGinnis said. "I think that's what you've got to try to keep them out of, the big inning.

"I thought Ashley (Eliasson) was great through four innings. She was working her corners and controlling them very well, keeping the hitters off-balance, but in the fifth inning she lost her corners. Alabama's a great hitting team; you put three-fourths of the ball over the plate, they're going to hit it solid and drive it deep like they did."

The Gamecocks (40-16) impressed a stadium and ESPN national audience with solid play early. They even took a 1-0 lead on Kayla Collins' solo homer in the fifth before Alabama's Lauren Parker, Ashley Holcombe and Whitney Larsen the Nos. 7, 8 and 9 hitters in its lineup hit their game-breaking consecutive homers in the bottom of the inning.

"Nine outs ... that's a marathon," McGinnis said. "Although we were up 1-0, I knew our defense and our pitchers still had the longest road of their career up to this point against Alabama.

"Alabama's hitters are so deadly, they're so explosive. One through nine, they're the most solid Alabama team that I have seen in several years. Going against them you're always sitting there on pins and needles. They're a very good team."

Dani Woods started the decisive rally by reaching on an error charged to JSU shortstop Mary Beth Ledbetter.

Ledbetter had been instrumental in keeping the Tide off the bases, flawlessly fielding a half dozen chances to that point. But she turned away from Woods' hot shot and the ball wound up in left field.

"It was hit pretty hard, but I just took my head off it and tried to backhand it instead of getting in front," Ledbetter said. "It wasn't very smart. I should've got in front of it and stopped it at least."

After the Tide failed to execute a sacrifice that left coach Patrick Murphy to wonder if this wasn't going to be his team's day, Parker followed with a deep homer to right to give the Tide the lead. Holcombe and Larsen then followed with attempts to knock down the scoreboard.

Holcombe ripped her homer off a spot near the scoreboard clock, and Larsen followed that with a shot off the big Alabama logo on the left side of the message board.

"That was hard to watch, but there was nothing I could really do about it once it already happened," Eliasson said. "You just try to make the best out of the next at-bat. When it happens three times in a row, there's nothing you can do, really."

Parker, a second baseman relegated to a designated player's role in the second half of the season by injuries (most notably cartilage damage in her left shoulder), broke an 0-for-16 slump with her homer. She had gone hitless since April 6, when she had three hits against LSU.

Holcombe broke an 0-for-17 slump when she homered against the Gamecocks on Friday.

"This is the best she's looked since last year," Murphy said of Parker. "It was like the old swing. She looks as normal as she has in a long time."

Melissa Dowling relieved the freshman Eliasson after the Larson homer. The Tide proceeded to load the bases against her with two singles and a walk, but she got out of it with a foul pop and liner to second.

In all, the Tide sent 10 batters to the plate in the inning.

Up to that point, the game was a pitching duel between two freshmen.

Alabama's Kelsi Dunne (24-4) held the Gamecocks to two hits through the first four innings, while Eliasson (16-5) was working on a one-hitter before the Tide chased her in the fifth.

Dunne remained in the game and finished with a three-hitter and 10 strikeouts. Seven of the punch-outs came among JSU's No. 2 through 6 hitters.

"I knew coming into the game I was going to have to bring my all, because last game (against Alabama) I knew I could pitch better than I had," Eliasson said. "I knew if I mixed it up more and worked my corners, then I'd be able to hold them for a while."

But it all went boom in the fifth.

About Al Muskewitz

Al Muskewitz covers golf and Jacksonville State University sports teams for The Anniston Star.

See story at The Anniston Star's website: .

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