"You have to give credit to Missouri," said Alabama Coach Patrick Murphy. "They're a great team and they're going to get some wins in the postseason. It was a great crowd here for college softball. Hats off to Sydney Littlejohn, making the biggest start of her career on the road in a game that really mattered. She kept her composure and as long as we had the lead in that final inning, I was going to stick with her. Credit to our defense as well, they were a lot better today."
Alabama (43-10, 18-5 SEC) earned the win behind a great start by Littlejohn (10-1) in the circle, going the distance in her first-ever SEC start with six strikeouts. Alabama scored three runs on seven hits with Kallie Case and Leona Lafaele driving in the go-ahead and insurance runs in the top of the seventh. Missouri (41-14, 15-8 SEC) played a close game as starter Tori Finucane was credited with the full 7.0 innings, though Casey Stangel (13-8) suffered the loss as she allowed the eventual go-ahead run to reach base.
Alabama scored the first run of the game in the top of the second with two outs, as Haylie McCleney drove a bases-loaded single through the left side to score Danielle Richard from third, making it 1-0. A fly ball to center field stranded the bases loaded as the Tide was unable to add to its lead.
Taylor Gadbois earned Missouri's first hit of the game with two outs in the bottom of the third. She stole second in the next at-bat and was driven home by a Sami Fagan RBI single up the middle to tie the game at 1-1. Fagan advanced to second on the throw attempt home but a groundout to Littlejohn in the circle kept her stranded at second as the Tide got out of the inning with the score now tied, 1-1.
After combining for five hits in the first three innings, the bats for both teams cooled as they only mustered three hits in fourth, fifth and sixth innings. Still tied heading into the seventh inning, Alabama quickly put two in scoring position with a single, error and stolen base to lead off the half-inning. Case then hit a hard single at the pitcher's feet, bouncing away from her to allow Danae Hays to score from third to put the Tide up 2-1. Later in the inning with the bases loaded and one out, Lafaele hit a ground ball to the second baseman and Missouri tried to get the force out at home but McCleney slid in ahead of the catch, putting the Tide up 3-1. A strikeout and a pop fly got the Tigers out of the inning, but Alabama held the edge heading into the final half-inning of regulation.
Missouri would grab a leadoff single in the bottom of the seventh, but a lineout and a popup would quickly bring the Tigers down to its final out. A groundout to Hays at short ended it, as the win secured Alabama sole possession of its fifth SEC Championship.
The series rubber match is set for a 1 p.m. CT start on Saturday, May 3. The game will be broadcast live on ESPNU.