OKLAHOMA CITY — Alabama ace Montana Fouts turned 21 in softball style.
Fouts threw a perfect game with 14 strikeouts on her 21st birthday, and the third-seeded Crimson Tide defeated No. 2 UCLA 6-0 on Friday night to advance to the semifinals of the Women's College World Series.
There had been four individual perfect games and one combined in WCWS history before Fouts' gem. The most recent had been by Courtney Blades of Southern Mississippi in 2000.
As the game progressed, Fouts tried not to focus on the situation.
"I honestly wasn't really thinking about it," the junior said. "I don't think you can think like that as a pitcher, as a player or even in the stands really, because I feel like I'm a superstitious person. But I don't know — I was just locked in each pitch because I know that one swing away, they have momentum."
The Alabama section of the crowd at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium — and even a fair number of UCLA fans — stood as Fouts took the circle in the bottom of the seventh. She had back-to-back swinging strikeouts of U.S. Olympians Bubba Nickles and Rachel Garcia before the Bruins' final batter, Aaliyah Jordan, flied out to deep left field.
Fouts threw 65 of her 95 pitches for strikes against a team that entered the game with a .319 batting average this season.
"She's a great pitcher," UCLA shortstop Briana Perez said. "We went in with a game plan, we let her get ahead in a lot of counts and didn't make an adjustment throughout the game, and so here we are."
Alabama (52-7), which ran its winning streak to 20 games, needs one more victory to reach the best-of-three championship series set to start Monday. The latest triumph earned the Tide a Saturday off; they'll return to the field Sunday for a 3:30 p.m. game against an opponent that will already have one loss in the double-elimination event.
Garcia, twice selected the college player of the year by USA Softball, was pulled with two outs in the sixth after allowing an earned run. She gave up five earned runs on seven hits and struck out three batters, throwing 105 pitches one day after totaling 112 in a win over Florida State.
The Bruins (47-6) will play the Georgia-Oklahoma winner in an elimination game Saturday night.
Fouts gave up one run and struck out 16 batters without a walk during a complete game against 11th-seeded Arizona on Thursday.
"Didn't think she would get better from yesterday, but she did," Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said. "And these are good teams. I mean, this is the king of the Pac-12, the Pac-12 champions, and to throw a perfect game against legendary UCLA is something else for a kid from a small town from northeast Kentucky."
Alabama didn't waste time giving Fouts run support. In the first inning, Bailey Hemphill doubled to score Alexis Mack, and Hemphill later scored on a single by Jenna Johnson. Kaylee Tow hit a three-run homer in the fifth to make it 5-0.
After that, the Tide focused on finishing the job for Fouts.
"I think I realized about the fifth inning that she was throwing a perfect game, but we all know the unwritten rule of never saying that they're throwing the perfect game," Tow said. "I think we were just trying to be calm, cool, and collected, make the plays, to keep that for her and allow her to have that moment. So no one wanted to talk about it until the end, but of course we went crazy there at the end for her."
James Madison 2, Oklahoma State 1
The James Madison University softball team did it again.
A little more than 24 hours after stunning top-seeded Oklahoma to open the WCWS, the Dukes beat No. 5 Oklahoma State. After posting the two wins against Big 12 teams playing within an hour of their campuses, the unseeded Dukes (41-2) — champions of the Colonial Athletic Association — are one victory from reaching the best-of-three title series that's set to start Monday.
Dukes ace Odicci Alexander had her second straight complete game, needing just 95 pitches against the Cowgirls (48-11) after throwing 129 against the Sooners, and Kate Gordon hit a home run for the second consecutive day.
"Rest up, just keep embracing each and every one of these moments," Alexander said. "I can't say that enough. I'm just so happy to be here and bring that fight, heart, passion, grit, all that when we play next."
In the first inning, Alexander helped herself by drawing a walk. Two batters later, Madison Maujokas reached on an infield single, and a throwing error by Oklahoma State pitcher Carrie Eberle allowed Alexander to score. The Cowgirls had two on and one out in the second but didn't score, and Gordon's shot in the third made it 2-0.
Eberle was hit in the lower left leg by a line drive in the third inning, but she stayed in the game.
Oklahoma State finally got on the board in the fifth, when Chelsea Alexander singled and Reagan Wright beat a throw home.
Eberle was pulled after getting into trouble in the same inning, and Kelly Maxwell got out of the jam without allowing a run. She struck out five batters and pitched two perfect innings.
Oklahoma State had one last shot in the seventh. Karli Petty was hit by a pitch to start the inning, then pinch runner Scotland David stole second. David was caught in a rundown between second and third after a bunt. James Madison was called for obstruction, so Petty ended up on third.
Odicci Alexander charged a bunt, picked it up and delivered a leaping tag on David coming home for the second out.
"It was a tough situation," the JMU pitcher said. "Runners were at second and third, and I kind of knew they were going to do something like that, so just being focused, and I mean, I kind of saw her in my peripheral and I really didn't have time to flip it to Lauren (Bernett), so I just went for it."
She got the next batter to pop out, and the Dukes advanced to the semifinals.
"It is indescribable, this feeling, how far we have taken it, how far we have gone, and I think it just speaks to our program," third baseman Lynsey Meeks said. "All the hard work that we have put in in the offseason, it's finally showing, and I couldn't be more proud of these girls and what we're accomplishing out on this big stage."
The Cowgirls will play the Arizona-Florida State winner in an elimination game Saturday night.
"We've just got to clear it," Maxwell said. "It happens. They're a great team. But we've just got to come out tomorrow and be ready to go do what's us and not who we're playing, take it to the other team."