Tallassee native Grantham lifts Alabama past Nebraska in Super Regional opener
TUSCALOOSA – After battling back to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh, Alabama and Nebraska fought back and forth for five extra innings before a solo home run by Tallassee native Peyton Grantham gave the Crimson Tide a walk-off 6-5 victory over Nebraska in 12 innings in the opening game of the Tuscaloosa Super Regional.
It was Grantham’s first-ever walkoff home run and it ended a marathon game that broke Super Regional and Alabama records.
"Everyone was just trying to keep the inning going and get base hits," stated Grantham, who grew up in Tallassee and moved to Daphne with her family before high school. "If it happens to be a home run, it happens to be a home run, but base hits are what we are going for.”
"I was a little worried when it was a two-hour game through four innings and it ended up being 4:22," stated Alabama coach Patrick Murphy. "It was the freshmen show tonight. All four of them contributed. Sydney (Littlejohn) obviously did her job. When I gave her the ball I said, ‘the job of the reliever is to keep the score the same of the other team,’ and she did it for eight innings. And then Peyton (Grantham) comes through. She had just missed the time before and she didn’t miss that time. It was just a heck of a game to start the super regional.”
The game is the longest-ever Super Regional game for Alabama (49-11) and it is Alabama’s longest game since April 8, 2011 when they went 14 innings and 4 1/2 hours against LSU. Thursday’s 12-inning marathon win was due in large part to the Tide’s four freshmen, as Marisa Runyon’s home run tied it in the seventh, a great catch by Chandler Dare in right field saved a hit in extra innings and Grantham came through with the big homer in the 12th, her fourth long ball of the year.
“They are a great team," said Nebraska starting pitcher Tatum Edwards. "They are ranked no. 2 for a reason. We knew it was going to be a dogfight no matter what. We just came out fighting and punching like any team would. It’s not like we were waiting for them to take the lead again. We knew it would be a battle no matter what the score was.”
Alabama freshman Sydney Littlejohn (11-2) entered in relief in the fifth inning and ended up pitching a career-high 8.0 innings and 115 pitches in the win, limiting Nebraska (44-17) to just three hits and no runs after the Huskers roughed up Alabama starter Jaclyn Traina for five runs off eight hits over the opening 4.0 innings.
Edwards lasted 6.0 innings before Emily Lockman (20-5) entered in the save situation, eventually taking the loss after giving up the tying and go-ahead runs, which were both home runs.
In the top of the first inning, Hailey Decker got things started with a one-out single and was driven home by a double to the right-field gap, pushing Nebraska up 1-0. After a popup, a two-out single to center field drove another runner home to make it a 2-0 game. MJ Knighten attempted to steal second in the next at-bat but was caught stealing by Kaila Hunt to end the half-inning.
Nebraska doubled its lead in the top of the second, as Austen Urness hit a two-run homer into left-center just shy of the scoreboard to make it 4-0. Alabama erased the shutout in the bottom of the second, as Molly Fichtner and Lafaele reached with nobody out, advanced up a base on a passed ball and moved up another on an errant throw attempt down to third, making the score 4-1 with a runner at third. Runyon drove Lafaele home with a single through the right side to make it 4-2 with still nobody out. Runyon moved into scoring position on a groundout but a strikeout and flyout kept her stranded as the Tide could not chip away at the 4-2 deficit.
The Huskers added to its lead in the top of the fourth, as Urness hit a slow chopper up the middle for an infield single, scoring the runner from third to make it 5-2. For the third-straight inning, Alabama put its first two runners on base in the bottom of the fourth. Ryan Iamurri dropped a successful pinch-hit sacrifice bunt to move the pair into scoring position and Haylie McCleney was intentionally walked to load the bases with one away. A weak grounder to short went for a force out at home for out number two but an error at third base allowed the runners to move up a base, scoring one to make it 5-3. Jadyn Spencer hit an RBI single up the middle to score the runner from third, making it 5-4, but the trailing runner was caught out at home off a great throw to end the rally with Alabama trailing by one heading to the fifth.
Decker led off the Husker half of the fifth with a double to center field that ended Traina’s outing in the circle as Alabama turned to Littlejohn in relief. Nebraska would eventually load the bases with two away but a high fly ball to center field went for a loud out number three to strand the bases loaded and keep Alabama within one.
With two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Runyon looked to start a rally with a single to center field. Danae Hays was hit by a pitch in the following at-bat and Peyton Grantham reached on an error to load the bases. The shortstop fielded a grounder and got the force out at second to stop the rally however, as Nebraska held on to its 5-4 lead heading to the sixth inning.
Alabama squandered another opportunity in the sixth inning, stranding a pair on base as they could not take the lead heading to the seventh inning. Nebraska was sat down in order on just four pitches in the top-half of the seventh, as Alabama needed just one to tie or two to win in the bottom half. Lockman entered to pitch in the save situation for Nebraska and Runyon made it a tie ballgame in the very first at-bat, sending a solo homer to deep center field, making it 5-5. Lockman bounced back to retire the next three Alabama batters, preventing the walk-off as the game was sent to extra innings.
Alabama worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the ninth, as Hays fielded a two-out grounder and stepped on second for the force out, keeping the game tied at 5-5. Alabama could not score in the bottom-half of the inning, as the teams headed to the 10th inning still tied at 5-5. The teams remained knotted up until the bottom of the 12th, when Grantham led off the half-inning with a long shot to center field to give Alabama the 6-5 walk-off win.
The second game of the Super Regional series will be on Friday at 5 p.m. CT on ESPNU. If a third game is forced, it will start at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN.