In the opening round of the NCAA's Tuscaloosa Regional, JSU fell to Alabama 4-0 for the 11th time in 11 all-time meetings. And it would be easy to say the Crimson Tide was a couple or three hits away from ending this one early through the mercy rule.
But Jacksonville State, which had runners on base in six of seven innings, often seemed only a hit or two away from seriously challenging the defending national champions on their own field.
"We played extremely hard," JSU's Kelci Johnston said. "We didn't have the timely hitting, and they did. We hit the ball hard, but we just didn't get the hit."
With the loss, the Gamecocks are in the elimination bracket. Alabama (43-13) will face Western Kentucky (42-16) in the winners' bracket final Saturday at 1 p.m. JSU (30-26) will face South Carolina-Upstate (41-11) in an elimination game at 3:30 p.m. The winner will meet the Alabama/WKU loser at 6 p.m.
Western Kentucky beat South Carolina-Upstate in the opening game Friday. After that, the rain and lightning came, which delayed the start of the Alabama-JSU game 2 hours, 15 minutes.
"Our girls were loose," JSU coach Jana McGinnis said. "That tells me our girls believed. I'm proud of the way they fought tonight. I didn't see any fear. There wasn't any backing down from the defending national champions."
But the runs never came against Alabama pitcher Leslie Jury (17-7), who allowed eight hits and one walk while striking out four. JSU got its leadoff batter on base in four innings. In another inning, the Gamecocks had runners on first and second with one out.
In the fifth, Hayden Crawford reached third with one out. In the sixth, JSU loaded the bases with two outs. In the seventh, it was runners on first and third with one out.
The Gamecocks had two big chances to score. In the second inning, Cadi Oliver tried to score from second on Ella Denes' single, but Alabama center fielder Kaylie McCleney charged the hit, fielded it on one hop and threw out Oliver at home.
In the sixth, Crawford faced bases loaded with two outs and hit a screamer down the third base line. But Alabama third baseman Courtney Conley smothered it, her momentum carrying her to the bag to get the force out.
"Hayden hit it solid," JSU's Krystal Ruth said. "She hit it hard. It was a good play by them."
Alabama didn't score until the third inning when Molly Fichtner's single brought home two runs.
In the fourth, the Tide had a chance for more when it loaded the bases with nobody out, but JSU pitcher Tiffany Harbin (17-14) got out of the jam.
Alabama's Ryan Iamurri struck a sharp grounder to JSU third baseman Cara Longworth, who stepped on third to record an out. Longworth then threw home to catcher Savannah Sloan, who managed to tag Alabama runner Keima Davis a fraction of a second before she stepped on the plate.
After that, Harbin got Haylie McCleney to pop out to end the inning.
In the fifth, Kaila Hunt ripped her 13th homer of the season well over the left field fence with nobody on. Jadyn Spencer followed with another solo homer and a 4-0 lead. After the second homer, Savanna Hennings replaced Harbin in the circle.
"Both of their pitchers made quality pitches when they needed to," Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. "They seemed to step up when the pressure was on, and we got people on base."