Top-ranked Alabama-Huntsville falls late to West Alabama

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Giving up nine unanswered runs in the final two innings of play, top-ranked Alabama-Huntsville (43-5-1) dropped a 10-5, eight-inning decision to West Alabama (38-17) on Friday afternoon in the opening round of the NCAA Division II Softball South Super Regional at the Charger Softball Complex in Huntsville.

Leading 5-1 heading into the final inning of regulation play, the Chargers opened the door for the Tigers by committing a pair of costly errors in the frame that led the four-run comeback for West Alabama.  UWA then exploded in the eighth inning with a five-run frame that put the contest out of reach for the home team.  The comeback by West Alabama was the first for any UAH opponent in the seventh inning or later this season, as the Chargers entered the day a perfect 22-0 when leading after six innings.

West Alabama was able to do what no other team has been able to do so far this season in handing senior closer Alex Lewis (Huntsville) her first loss of the season.  The UAH hurler entered Friday with a perfect 7-0 mark on the season and only six earned runs allowed before the UWA outburst.

Both teams threatened early in the contest but it would not be until the fourth inning for the scoring to start as UAH put up three runs on the board.  A leadoff walk by freshman left fielder Mary Kelley (Mobile) got things started for the Chargers and sophomore shortstop Kathryn Whitlock (Arab) followed up the free pass with a two-run blast into the trees in left field.  A pair of singles and a walk then led to the third run of the inning as junior center fielder Kelli Long (Sterling, Ill.) reached on an infield single that allowed sophomore right fielder Megan Billingsley (Columbiana) to come across the dish.

West Alabama countered in the fifth inning with what would turn out to be a crucial run thanks to a leadoff walk and a double to left center by UWA stand out Valisha Fincher.  The Chargers quickly erased the tally though in the bottom of the frame with a two-out rally.  Whitlock got things going by drawing a free pass from West Alabama starter Kristen Skinner.  A single to right by sophomore second baseman Kellie Johnson (Gardendale) and a walk by sophomore third baseman Abby MacKay (Madison) loaded the bases for senior designated player Emily Roach (Huntsville).  Skinner then beaned Roach to make it a 4-1 Charger lead but got out of the bases-loaded jam as UAH left three of its 11 runners left on base on the day.

UAH added the final run of the afternoon in the sixth but a bang-bang crucial play would prove to be costly in the stanza.  After Long led off the inning with a bunt single to third base, the UAH speedster took off for second base going for her 38th consecutive stolen base but the ball arrived just as she reached the base in her pop-up slide and was called out for the first time in 2011.  The Tigers then made back-to-back errors on consecutive plays to allow Billingsley to reach and then score all the way from second when UWA neglected to cover home plate on an overthrow of first base.

From that point on, it was all West Alabama as the Tigers rattled off nine unanswered runs in the contest.

UWA's Hannah Griffin (4-3) picked up the win in relief of Skinner going three innings in the circle.  Griffin allowed only three hits and one earned run.  Lewis took the loss for the Chargers in relief of freshman starter Whitney Toler (Fayetteville, Ga.), who worked four innings allowing one earned run on four hits.

The two teams battle again on Saturday afternoon with the series winner advancing to next week's NCAA Division II College World Series in Salem, Va.  Game two of the South Super Regional is slated for a 2 p.m. first pitch with an "if necessary" game 30 minutes after game two.