BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
It appeared for a moment that defending SEC Tournament softball champion Arkansas was going to reward a large crowd at Bogle Park with a thrilling come from behind win in this year’s event.
Razorback center fielder Reagan Johnson had just thrown out Alabama pinch-runner Faith Hensley at plate on Jenna Johnson’s single in the top of the sixth and the crowd of 2,740 was roaring.
That kept Arkansas’ deficit at 1-0 and Johnson then led off the bottom of the sixth with a single and scored on Cylie Halvorson’s out-out single to tie it.
That brought about bedlam at Bogle Park, hosting its second SEC Tournament after doing so previously in 2010.
“Our crowd was incredible tonight,” Deifel said. “It felt louder and more electric than any crowd that we’ve play in front of and we have been in front of some really big crowds here. But they brought it tonight.”
But Alabama (40-17) avoided disaster as. star pitcher Montana Fouts intentionally walked Hannah Gammill with two outs to load the bases and then fanned Kacie Hoffman to end the threat.
Arkansas (38-17), who will find out Sunday if he gets to host an NCAA Regional or has to travel to one, also loaded the bases in the seventh, but failed to score.
Those miss opportunities led to Alabama’s Bailey Dowling swatting a two-run double in the top of the ninth inning that plated the deciding runs in the Crimson Tide’s 3-2 win.
Dowling, whose team will play either Tennessee or South Carolina in a Friday semifinal, had fanned her previous three times against Arkansas pitcher Chenise Delce.
“It was a game where no one deserved to lose,” Deifel said. “It was just a really great game and another one like we had against them in Tuscaloosa. Just give them credit for finding a way to get it done.
“I am proud of the way we fought. It was just a great softball game. It stings, but it was a great softball game and I am proud of the way our student athletes fought.”
The aforementioned double gave Alabama a 3-1 lead, but Arkansas did cut it to 3-2 on Raigan Kramer’s pop fly double in the bottom that scored Johnson.
Crimson Tide reliever Alex Salter (7-3) intentionally walked Rylin Hedgecock then got the final out by retiring Halvorson with the winning runs on base
“Again, I just want say thanks to everybody at Arkansas for a true championship experience,” Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy said. “It is so cool to see another SEC city that embraces softball like Fayetteville has and like Tuscaloosa has.
“I sure Coach Deifel will say the same thing, but it was a great atmosphere for softball, a national television audience and the whole thing was just made for TV.”
The game was a showcase for two of the SEC’s best pitchers in Delce (20-9) and Fouts (23-9), who had both shined when Arkansas took two from Alabama in Tuscaloosa on March 18-20.
Those two are the last two SEC Pitchers of the Year with Fouts earning the honor in 2021 and Delce in 2022.
Delce threw a whopping 169 pitches while going 8 2/3 innings while allowing 3 runs on 9 hits, fanning 10, walking 7 and throwing 5 wild pitches.
“She was exceptional tonight,” Deifel said. “We feel like anytime she is out there that she gives us a chance to win and she did tonight.
“It wasn’t pretty tonight. I know she grinded a little bit more than typical, but they have seen a lot of her and to still have that effectiveness is huge.
“But she had guts, a ton of guts and I am just really, really proud she is a Razorback.”
Fouts left with an injury in the seventh after going 6 2/3 innings, allowing the lone run on five hits and fanning nine batters to raise her season total to 311.
Alabama left 13 runners on base and Arkansas 11.
“Both sides, the pitchers were terrific, made pitches when they needed to and got out of several jams, obviously both teams,” Murphy said.
“It was just a (College Softball) World Series type game at the SEC Tournament. It was just a hell of a game for softball.”
Alabama took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Ally Shipman singled, moved up on a walk and scored when Kristin White’s grounder eluded both first baseman Halvorson and second baseman Kristina Foreman.
“It was a great series in Tuscaloosa and seriously they have got a great team and Chenise is a hell of a pitcher,” Murphy said. “She is very, very good and her change up was on tonight.”