BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
In a battle of All-Americans who both went 10 innings and threw a combined 345 pitches, Arkansas ace Chenise Delce got the last pitch and thus her team a big win Monday night in Tuscaloosa.
Delce (11-5) fanned eight and allowed just five hits while throwing a career-high 172 pitches and number of in the Razorbacks’ 2-1 extra inning win over Alabama.
She outdueled Alabama’s Montana Fouts (11-4), who threw 173 pitches, in a decision that handed the No. 12 Razorbacks (22-8, 3-3) their first ever road series win over the No. 13 Crimson Tide (22-8, 1-2).
Arkansas head coach Courtney Deifel was thrilled with her team’s second win in two days after dropping the series opener on Saturday.
“I thought this was a huge series to win, especially since it was our program’s first-ever series victory at Alabama,” Deifel said. “We showed a ton of grit and character, and I couldn’t be more proud of how we fought. That’s a game where nobody deserves to lose.
“Chenise Delce was outstanding tonight. Our team showed a ton of resilience and had each other’s backs.”
Arkansas’ Rylin Hedgecock’s 12th home run of the season – a solo blast off Fouts in the top of the 10th – proved to be the game winner.
“We worked so hard this week as a team to put all of our skills together, and it really showed this weekend,” Hedgecock said. “It’s always hard to win in this league, especially on the road, so it felt great to get the series against a top-25 opponent.
“Our energy was electric all weekend, and I’m so proud of how we competed.”
Hedgecock and Lauren Carmezind had two hits each for Arkansas with Camezind’s single in the fourth tying it 1-1.
Fouts gave up 8 hits, walked two and fanned 11, but couldn’t get by Hedgecock at crunch time.
Delce noted the Arkansas dugout exploded emotionally when Hedgecock’s bomb left the park.
“They (emotions) were all over the place – it was happiness, it was excitedness,” Delce said. “It was just crazy in the dugout.”
Delce ended the game with a bases-loaded strikeout of Emma Broadfoot, who had homered off the Razorback ace in the second to put Alabama up 1-0.
Delce was asked if she had ever approached throwing 172 pitches in one game.
“Probably not, absolutely not,” Delce said and noted she kept going due to her teammate. “Kind of everybody coming in and saying you are better than this, keep fighting, we got your back…I was just getting strength from everybody.”
Fouts and Alabama had won the series opener over Delce and Arkansas 2-0 non Saturday.
But Delce came in a reliever to close out the Razorbacks 5-3 win on Saturday.
“This series I just really focused op spinning the ball, I think the first two games I kind of got away got myself. This time around Coach Deifel that is what I needed to focus on.”
Deifel visited the mound in the 10th to check on and encourage Delce.
“Like we said earlier, I had be thrown like 175 pitches so I was like ‘I don’t know if I can finish,” Delce said. But they again were like ‘you are a fighter, you can finish this.’ I said ‘okay, I got it.”
Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy was not around to see the finish after getting ejected for arguing balls and strikes in the top of the ninth inning.
He was replaced by assistant coach Alyson Habetz.
“The people that have been up in those late game situations haven’t had as many opportunities as maybe some of our other players,” Habetz said. “In that last inning, we get three hits from our veterans back-to-back-to-back, and then maybe a younger player or someone who doesn’t have as much experience in those pressure situations comes up.
“:However, that experience alone is going to help us down the road because the more they’re in those clutch situations now, even if they don’t come through, they know what that pressure and anxiety feels like and it will definitely benefit them in the long run. Those young players just need more opportunities to do it.”
Alabama will host UAB on Wednesday before heading to Tennessee for a series beginning Friday.
Arkansas hosts No. 11 Florida with Friday’s opener at 6 p.m., Saturday’s game at 8 p.m. and Sunday’s at noon.
Photo courtesy of Arkansas athletics