Fouts’ 3-hitter lifts Alabama past Arizona, into WCWS semis

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Alabama coach Patrick Murphy turned things over to a freshman in the most important game of the season, and she came through.

Montana Fouts pitched a complete-game shutout, and Alabama defeated Arizona 2-0 in a Women’s College World Series elimination game on Saturday night.

Fouts gave up three hits and struck out nine.

“I think it starts with Montana, where she’s fearless,” Murphy said. “She’s a freshman, but you would never know it. She’s very resilient. She’s never nervous. Just a really gritty kid.”

Bailey Hemphill, who set school single-season records for home runs and RBIs in the earlier win over Florida, doubled against Arizona in the third inning to knock in the game’s only two runs.

“I think any time you score first, you set the tone of the game,” she said. “When we came out and scored before them, the momentum was our way. We kind of just kept it the whole game, didn’t really give it back to them.”

Alabama (59-9) advanced to play top-seeded Oklahoma in the semifinals on Sunday. The Crimson Tide will have to defeat the Sooners twice, while the Sooners only need one win to advance to the championship series.

Oklahoma defeated Alabama 3-2 on the opening day of the tournament. The Crimson Tide plan to adjust.

“I think we just need to swing at strikes,” Hemphill said. “I think we swung at a lot of pitcher’s pitches last game, got ourselves out. Attacking the strike zone, keep playing how we’ve been playing, good defense, offense, pitching.”

Arizona (48-14) loaded the bases with one out in the fourth, but couldn’t capitalize. Hanah Bowen lined out hard to Hemphill for the third out, and Alabama escaped without allowing a run.

“I don’t know why, I had a gut feeling she was going to hit it in the 3-4 hole,” Hemphill said. “I kind of cheated a little bit that way. It was placed right. I was able to catch it.”

Alabama left the bases loaded in the top of the seventh, giving the Wildcats a chance.

Arizona’s Rylee Pierce launched a ball deep to right field, but Alabama’s KB Sides caught it at the warning track for the first out, and the Crimson Tide eventually held on for the shutout.

“If she doesn’t catch it or if it goes out, who knows what happens,” Murphy said. “They have all the momentum. They’re excited. Big catch up against the fence. Between her and Bailey’s play, I think those were two of the biggest defensive ones for us.”

Arizona, which has eight national titles, reached the World Series for the first time since 2010. Coach Mike Candrea feels there is a bright future ahead. The Wildcats had just one senior in the batting lineup.

“It’s a journey to get here,” he said. “I’m very proud of this team, like I told them. There’s a lot for them to be very proud of. Number one, getting us back to the College World Series. Number two, it’s hard to understand the experience here until you’ve been through it.”