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Gritty, remarkable comeback by Texas produces 7-5 win over Alabama

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Two home runs and a sensational relief effort by Shealyn O’Leary kept the Horns alive in the Tuscaloosa Super Regional.

Texas softball

The Texas Longhorns are quickly proving that they aren’t afraid of playing with their backs against the wall, as head coach Mike White’s team won its fifth straight elimination game with the biggest comeback of the season to pull out an extremely impressive 7-5 victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide on Friday at Rhoads Stadium in the Tuscaloosa Super Regional.

Texas immediately fell behind, as star pitcher Miranda Elish gave up three runs in the top of the first inning with Alabama hitters battling hard at the plate. After Elish struck out the first batter on three pitches, she then gave up a single and two walks on full counts. A groundout scored the first run and another full count base hit scored two more to put the Longhorns in a 3-0 hole before even getting a chance at the plate.

The Horns then suffered a scary moment in the second inning. With a runner on first and one out, Texas catcher Mary Iakopo, who had two throwing errors on Thursday, fielded a bunt and tried to throw out the runner at second base, but instead hit Elish in the face as she walked towards home plate. Elish wasn’t expecting the throw because the umpire called a dead ball — the batter was out because she stepped out of the batter’s box on the bunt.

Quickly surrounded by her teammates, Elish was able to walk to the locker room before she was taken to a nearby hospital on a stretcher as a precaution.

Shealyn O’Leary replaced Elish, who left a runner on base after a walk on another full count. After a wild pitch by O’Leary, the runner scored on a throwing error by the shortstop to stretch the Alabama lead to 4-0.

Against one of the most powerful teams in the country and a pitcher who entered the game having allowed only three home runs all season — Thursday winner Montana Fouts, a freshmen who threw a complete game shutout to open Super Regional play — Texas responded with its own power after Fouts replaced starter Krystal Goodman with one out and two on in the third inning.

Iakopo make up for her earlier mistakes on the fourth pitch she saw from Fouts, sending it deep into the Alabama night:

In the fourth, the power surge continued, as Alabama native MK Tedder, the Texas right fielder who entered the game with only a single home run on the season and three in her career, took advantage of another pitch up and over the plate, pulling it over the left-field fence to tie the game at 4-4.

The big blows marked a reversal from Thursday’s game, during which Alabama pitchers made Elish pay for her mistakes — on Friday, the Texas hitters didn’t miss their chances.

The Longhorns didn’t let up, either, with Fouts reeling in what quickly became the worst appearance of her brief but extremely successful career. In fact, two singles drove Fouts from the game. Fouts ultimately allowed four runs (three earned) on four hits in 0.2 innings, the shortest outing of her career.

With Goodman back in the game, a sacrifice bunt and a walk led to a major mistake by the Crimson Tide as a throwing error by the second baseman resulted in two runs scoring. Another scored on the subsequent groundout, a remarkable diving play by the Alabama shortstop with the throw to first delivered from her stomach.

Still, the damage was done, as the Horns took a 7-4 lead.

Alabama star Bailey Hemphill pulled the Crimson Tide to with two runs after hooking an outside pitch over the wall in left-center field — no easy task. Texas center fielder Reagan Hathaway thought she had a chance to make a play on the ball, but she miscalculated where she was and jumped into the fence instead of finding it and then going up.

From there, O’Leary shut Alabama down, ultimately allowing only two hits and the single run in 5.1 innings of exceptional work. Of course, O’Leary has set a high standard for herself as a freshman, as she leads the nation with an ERA that now stands at 0.59. Call it more of the same for the breakout sensation, then, albeit on the biggest stage yet.

With the season on the line, the Longhorns once again delivered an incredible result, this time in a hostile environment against an excellent team.

Texas will have a chance to hand Alabama a rare home Super Regional defeat on Saturday at 1 p.m. Central on ESPN and 104.9 The Horn.