Arizona State (1-1 in postseason) got off to an ideal start in its second game of the Tuscaloosa Regional. In front of a packed house at John and Ann Rhoads Softball Stadium against Alabama (2-0 in postseason), the Sun Devils snagged an early 2-0 lead.
Junior outfielder Kindra Hackbarth homered over the right center field wall in the first inning against freshman phenom Montana Fouts. The Devils had thrown the first punch on Alabama’s home field.
Unfortunately for ASU, the early strike wouldn’t last forever, as the Crimson Tide went on to defeat the Sun Devils 7-4 in a game full of momentum shifts.
After the Hackbarth homer, Alabama would tie things in the bottom half. Then some early controversy came in the second inning.
ASU put up two more runs courtesy of an Alabama throwing error and an RBI single from Skylar McCarty. With two outs, the Devils had runners on first and third. Head coach Trisha Ford elected to pull some trickery and put on a play with two strikes in the inning.
Ford called for a double steal. Senior center fielder Morgan Howe was on third base and sophomore second baseman Bella Loomis stood on first. Loomis took off and Alabama junior shortstop Claire Jenkins cut off the throw going to second.
As soon as the ball was thrown down to second, Howe scrambled for home plate. Jenkins threw back to her catcher. Howe appeared to get in safely and get in ahead of the throw easily. Home plate umpire Ron Alexander thought otherwise.
He called Howe out at the dish. Ford and Howe both bolted up to have a word with the umpire. Instead of a 5-2 ASU lead with another runner in scoring position at second base, the inning came to an abrupt close.
Here is the replay of ASU's attempted double steal. Morgan Howe looks to get in pretty clearly, call costs the Sun Devils at least one run and potentially more. pic.twitter.com/gM2OCVRupE— Brady (@BradyVernon) May 18, 2019
To add insult to injury and to Alabama’s credit, they seized momentum. In the bottom of the second, Crimson Tide senior catcher Reagan Dykes homered to left field, cutting the lead to 4-3.
Alabama tied the game in the third, then pinch-hitter Caroline Hardy delivered the biggest hit of a seesaw game. She came off the bench to punch a two-out, two-strike, three-RBI double off the right center field wall.
Even then, there was another bang-bang call that almost fell in favor of ASU. While the game was tied at four prior to Hardy’s double, McCarty nearly doubled off a runner at second base that would have ended the inning. Instead, play continued and that set the stage for Hardy’s clutch delivery.
The call at second was very close, but it could have changed momentum and kept the game knotted at four.
This was the potential third out before Bama's three-run double, the difference in the game.— Brady (@BradyVernon) May 18, 2019
It's close, I think they doubled her up, but this tweet is more about the need for replay in the postseason. Yes, the fourth umpire helps, however, the game is still too fast. pic.twitter.com/PUK02JWD4s
ASU didn’t score after the third frame, and Fouts found her rhythm. After a tough start against the Sun Devils’ potent lineup, she ended the game tying her season-high of 12 strikeouts.
Ultimately, a lot of people can point fingers at umpires and blame them for a loss. ASU fell on the wrong side of a couple tough calls, but that didn’t determine the verdict of the game. There was still plenty of time to make up ground in the later innings, but Fouts shut the door and Alabama prevailed.
In high-pressure postseason contests, umpires are under the microscope more than ever. It’s not an easy job, and it creates further debate for instant replay somewhere down the road.
But for now, all that is known is that ASU has fallen to the loser’s bracket of the tournament. They play an elimination game later this evening. Overcoming adversity is a part of the postseason, and the Devils will look to respond quickly after a game full of ups and downs against Alabama.
ASU plays Lipscomb at approximately 4 p.m. MST.