Another SEC weekend series, another pitching clinic from Maddie Penta in a crucial SEC road series in Tuscaloosa. After staying in the bullpen during the series-opening 6-1 loss to the Tide, Penta stepped into the circle for 14-straight innings, delivering a 5-1 win on the backend of Saturday's doubleheader and clinching the series with a 3-1 on Sunday.
With inclement weather pushing the weekend series to a Saturday doubleheader, Auburn kicked things off with Shleby Lowe in the starting role. Going up against Annabelle Fouts, in what was Annabelle Fouts day at Rhoads Stadium, Lowe gave up two earned runs in 4.1 innings, while Fouts put together a complete game and took home the win, her 18th of the year.
“We stayed with it all day,” said head coach Mickey Dean. “It wasn’t the prettiest performance, but it was a good day overall. We need to be better on defense. We rushed a couple plays that we didn’t need to rush.”
Catcher Ally Shipman got the scoring started in the first with an RBI double and then a solo home run in the fourth gave Alabama a 2-0 lead. Denver Bryant earned Auburn's only run of the opening contest with a solo homer in the sixth but the Tigers dropped game one 6-1.
Game two began with Bryant picking up right where she left off with a three-run home run in the top of the first giving the Tigers an early 3-0 cushion. A fielding error and a fielder's choice put both of Auburn's runners on base. Kenleigh Cahalan helped the Tide bounce back with an RBI single in the bottom of the first, but that was Alabama's only run of game two as Maddie Penta locked into another solid performance for the Tigers.
“Penta performed really well today,” Dean said. “She was nervous that first inning. There are a lot of people here. It was a big day for Alabama softball, being ‘Montana Fouts Day’. She settled down. She did her thing.”
Throwing 114 pitches, Penta earned win No. 20, giving up one run and three hits while throwing seven strikeouts. The combo of Alex Salter and Jaala Torrence gave up six hits and five runs, with Salter taking the loss for the Tide.
With the series knotted up at 1-1, Auburn's head coach turned to Maddie Penta one more time. In the matchup that everyone in Tuscaloosa had been waiting for, Penta and Fouts squared off, each throwing a complete game.
After two scoreless innings, Auburn struck first with a home run from Carlee McCondiche, just her second of the year.
“It was a relief,” McCondichie said. “I’ve been struggling at the plate. My dad sent me a Mike Trout video this morning where he said if you go to the plate thinking you’re going to get out, you’ve got no shot. I played with a lot of confidence at the plate today.”
Alabama responded in the bottom of the fourth with a groundout from Bailey Dowling bringing in the first run of the contest for the Tide. But that would be the only run of the afternoon for Alabama as Penta shut down the Tide's offense and received some support from her batters to take the 3-1 victory over Fouts.
“I’ve been telling people all year that if you don’t come watch this team play, you are missing it,” head coach Mickey Dean said. “That was one hell of a matchup between (Maddie) Penta and (Montana) Fouts. That was fun to watch. Maddie kept her composure. They threatened. We made mistakes, but she kept her composure.”
For the second game in a row, Penta threw 114 pitches, and she secured her second win of the weekend. While giving up six hits, she held Alabama to one run and registered eight strikeouts. Fouts managed 11 strikeouts, but a pair of RBIs from Bryant and Bri Ellis in the sixth sealed the win for Auburn.
“I don’t think I have ever cried because of a softball game, but I did shed a singular tear when I gave Bri (Ellis) a hug at first base,” Penta said. “It is so hard to play here. This crowd is insane. Hitters were there for me. Defense was there for me. The defense has been fantastic the last few weeks. They’ve had my back.”
Penta and the Tigers will get some much-needed rest this week, before going back on the road for the final road series of the season, taking on South Carolina in Columbia. First pitch for the series opener is set for Friday at 5:30 p.m. CST.