OKLAHOMA CITY — Jessie Harper tied Arizona’s all-time home run record but Montana Fouts stole the show as Alabama cruised past Arizona 5-1 on Thursday at the Women’s College World Series.
Fouts recorded 16 strikeouts and held the Wildcats to two hits. Harper homered with two outs in the seventh inning, the 92nd long ball of her career, tying Katiyana Mauga for most in Wildcat history and second-most in NCAA history. Harper needs three more to tie Lauren Chamberlain’s NCAA record.
Janelle Meoño accounted for Arizona’s other hit, a single over the third baseman’s head in the fourth inning. She was erased with a groundball double play.
“The thing of today was Montana Fouts,” said Arizona head coach Mike Candrea. “She was outstanding, my hat goes off to her. She threw a hell of a ballgame. We really didn’t have any answers for the majority of that game.”
It was the first time Arizona faced Fouts since Alabama eliminated the Wildcats in the 2019 Women’s College World Series. Fouts twirled a three-hit shutout that night.
The good news for Arizona is this time it has at least one more game to play. The Wildcats will play Florida State on Saturday at 11:30 a.m. PT, needing a win to keep their season alive. Alabama will play UCLA on Friday evening.
“You live and you learn,” Harper said. “You take what you’ve done this game and you move forward. You trust in your teammates, you trust in yourself and in your preparation. I would go to war with my team. I’m ready. Going to go hit tomorrow. Work on the little things. As long as you have trust in yourself and the people in front of you and behind you, you’ll be good to go.”
Arizona’s offense was red-hot entering the night, averaging nine runs per game in the postseason. Fouts overpowered it with pitches that regularly topped 70 miles per hour. She was cruising from the start, fanning eight of the first nine batters she faced.
The opposite was true for Hanah Bowen, who immediately faced trouble in the first inning of her first-ever pitching appearance at the WCWS.
After walking two batters, Jenna Johnson singled through left side to plate the game’s first run. Bailey Hemphill was originally going to stop at third but was waved home when Meoño bobbled the ball.
Meoño eventually collected it but her throw to the plate bounced off Hemphill’s back as she slid in safely at home. Hemphill also scored Alabama’s second run, sneaking a solo homer inside the left-field foul pole to double the lead in the third.
Meoño, the only Wildcat to make contact against Fouts in the first three innings, responded by chopping a single to left to lead off the fourth. Reyna Carranco appeared to reach on a bunt single to put two on with nobody out for Harper, but Carranco was ruled out because her foot was out of the box when bat-on-ball contact was made.
Harper then bounced into a 6-3 double play to end the threat.
“I think early on, we were just not catching up to the speed or we were actually making ourselves react quicker than what we needed to instead of trying to slow it down and get good pitches,” Candrea said. “I thought early in the game we looked at pitches we probably could have hit, gave her the opportunity to throw the rise ball up in the zone and we started chasing. She’s a good pitcher. 72 miles an hour is not easy to hit. Even if it’s straight. Well, Montana has not only the velocity, but she has good movement. We knew it was going to be a challenge. I thought we would obviously be a little better than we were today. We just couldn’t figure it out, ran out of innings.”
Fouts reeled off seven straight strikeouts before Harper homered to left. As usual, Harper deflected questions about making history. She said she was just trying to get Dejah Mulipola to the plate and extend the game.
Alabama had just added three runs off Alyssa Denham in the previous inning. Maddie Morgan drilled an RBI double into the left-field gap and Abby Doerr lifted a two-run, pinch-hit homer to the same part of the yard.
“When you don’t have an offense, sometimes I felt like a ghost at third base, there’s not much you can do,” Candrea said. “All you can do to win a game like that is to match them pitch for pitch. We didn’t quite do that.”