— By David Walsh
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Alabama’s Montana Fouts rebounded from a 5-3 loss against Liberty to get a save in a 3-1 win against host Marshall to make the most of her Homecoming in front of a standing room only crowd of 2,768 fans on Tuesday at Dot Hicks Field with many on hand to support the ace of the Crimson Tide’s staff.
“It was emotional to see all those people,” Fouts said before heading out to visit with fans and sign autographs. “I’m going to give it all I have the next couple of months.”
Marshall starter Sydney Nester (20-5) and Alabama’s Lauren Esman (4-2) had shutouts going through five innings. In the sixth, Ally Shipman ripped a double down the left-field line for the team’s first hit and designated hitter Bailey Dowling then lofted a fly over the fence in left center for a 2-run homer. Later with two out and runner on third, an error allowed that run to come home.
Esman, a lefty, retired the first 13 Herd batters before Camryn Michallas got the first hit on a drive to left. Michallas got her second in the seventh off Fouts as she beat the throw to first on her grounder to deep short. After review, the call stood and Sydney Bickel raced home from second to end the shutout bid. Fouts would fan pinch hitter Bub Feringa for the final out to secure the win for her fourth save of the season to go with a 17-7 record.
The loss was the Thundering Herd’s first at home this season. MU is 17-1 at home and 36-6 overall going into a weekend Sun Belt Conference home series against James Madison.
Fouts heard the screams from young fans when she took over for Esman in the seventh.
“I was ready for the fans. It was emotional ,” said Fouts, who was born in Charleston, but hails from Grayson, Ky., and played high school ball at East Carter. “I’m always happy to play the game anywhere, but it’s really special being home in front of my family, friends and especially all these little girls because I used to be just like that. I want to be the best role model I can be.”
Fouts treated the Crimson Tide team to an evening at her home Monday night.
“It was a great time,” Fouts said. “The team made the most of the food.”
Fouts had a feeling she’d see Feringa at some point.
“I knew I’d face her,” She said. “I was able to squeak one by. Obviously I’m not happy with the first (game) loss. In the second, I was able to adjust and come back. Lauren had an amazing day. It was important for her to do that.”
Marshall coach Megan Smith Lyon and Alabama boss Patrick Murphy both agreed this day was big in so many ways.
“To have Alabama and Liberty here and all these fans it’s a great day for softball,” Lyon said. “The women deserve to get that kind of support. It’s not the result we wanted, but I liked the fight we showed.”
“I think today was just a win-win for the game of softball,” Murphy said. “To see all these people out here on a Tuesday afternoon to watch a college softball game was incredible for all three teams today.”
Fans began arriving Tuesday as early as 8 a.m.
Fouts said when the season ends, she hopes to try for the Olympics and work summer camps. “I’ll stay in the game as long as I can,” she said.
Alabama, 6-0 all-time against Marshall, finished the non-conference portion of its schedule 24-7. Marshall is the fourth Sun Belt team the Crimson Tide had faced. They earlier had defeated Georgia Southern and Southern Miss and lost to Texas State. The save for Fouts is the 15th of the graduate senior’s career. The seven strikeouts for two games brings her total to a nation-leading 244 and career total to 1,102.
Lyon said her team’s defense rose to the occasion. “We could not quite get the offense going,” she said.
Lyon said she believed her team might not see Fouts in the nightcap especially since her lineup features a lot of left-handed batters.
“Honestly I thought we might see her,” Lyon said of Esman. “We have a lot of lefties. I wanted to face Fouts. I’m glad she came in.”
Nester said Tuesday afternoon was special.
“I felt good. It was a super positive environment to be in,” she said. “I had a feeling it might be a pitcher’s duel. They pulled it out in the sixth. The crowd was awesome. To watch them come watch us was amazing.”
Alabama has received 23 straight NCAA Tournament bids, reached the College World Series 12 times and won the national title in 2021. That season Fouts was the NFCA Pitcher of the Year. She pitched a perfect game against UCLA in the 2021 CWS.
In the opener, Caroline Hudson belted a three-run homer off Fouts in the bottom of the fifth to lift Liberty (29-15) to its first win over a Top 25 team this season and first over the Crimson Tide in six tries. The Lady Flames had lost eight straight against Top 25 teams this season.
Hudson finished with four RBI as Liberty made the most of its three hits.
Karlie Keeney got her 20th win of the season. She allowed eight hits, walked one and fanned three.
Fouts, recipient of many cheers from fans on hand when she took over in the fourth, worked 32/3 innings in relief of starter Alex Salter. Fouts allowed two hits and struck out five.
Alabama had taken a 3-2 lead on a solo homer by Bailey Dowling in the top of the fifth. After the Hudson homer, Keeney retired the final seven batters she faced.