They saw three consecutive UA batters hit home runs in the first inning, and witnessed Alabama (40-2, 17-2 Southeastern Conference) go back-to-back in the fourth.
They even saw Crimson Tide coach Patrick Murphy get ejected.
Between pitches, they could gander at the top of the home dugout, painted with the words “Alabama Softball” in crimson, with the school logo in between.
Under that roof, in a space that can be walked end-to-end in 20 steps, lies an area occupied by 20 softball sorority sisters. It is their work area and their playpen, a place where they speak their own language and sometimes communicate by hand signals. While the action plays out on the field, while fans cheer and consume hot dogs and popcorn, a different drama unfolds in the dugout as players interact with each other and with the three coaches and seven managers and trainers on hand to support them.
This is story of what went on in the Alabama dugout for 2 hours and 4 minutes on a hot and cloudy afternoon.
Top of the first inning
Nonstarters line the rail, standing on the top of the highest of three concrete steps that take the players up to field level. They bunch up toward the home-plate end of the dugout to be closer to the action.
Behind them, on a two-tiered bench, are 20 backpacks containing the players’ gear. the day’s lineup is taped above a metal box that holds a phone that connects with the press box upstairs. Two coolers sit at the far end, one filled with ice water and the other with Gatorade. a rubber mat lines the floor of the dugout to keep people from slipping.
Alabama pitcher Jackie Traina, undefeated in 25 decisions, starts the game with a strike that South Carolina’s Samie Garcia fouls back.
“All right, Jack. Hey, Jack, hey, Jack,” shouts senior Kendall Dawson, Traina’s regular catcher, who is sitting out the game so freshman Chaunsey Bell can get game experience.
As Traina throws another strike, senior slugger Amanda Locke hears a familiar voice and looks over her shoulder to the front row of the crowd.
“Welcome back,” she calls out, smiling at a fan.
Players clap along with UA supporters in the stands as Traina delivers a two-strike pitch.
“Rufio, Rufio, roof-e-ohhhhhh,” players chant, punctuated by “Yeah, boom!”
The odd Alabama strikeout chant was originated several years ago by a group of students who attended games. They took it, for reasons unknown, from the 1991 Peter Pan film “Hook,” and it has been passed down among patrons and players ever since.
Traina strikes out another.
As the third batter, Kaitlin Westfall, steps into the batter’s box, Alabama assistant coach Alyson Habetz calls out to right fielder Jazlyn Lunceford, using hand signals to tell the outfielder to back up a few steps.
Traina’s third strikeout is greeted with a cheer from the dugout as UA fielders run back to get ready for their turn at bat.
Bottom of the first
The team gathers for a quick meeting a few feet in front of the dugout, but left fielder Kayla Braud and center fielder Jennifer Fenton are excused. They are the first two batters up, so they grab batting gloves and take a helmet off a shelf of cubbyholes located on the wall at the home-plate end of the dugout.
Each selects a bat and steps out to take warm-up swings.
No one really sits on the dugout bench, which is mostly covered with backpacks. Players prefer to stand along the rail, facing the field. Third baseman Courtney Conley reaches into her backpack and brings out a bag of sunflower seeds, which she offers to share with teammates.
Leslie Jury, a freshman pitcher, finishes filling out a form on Traina’s first inning. she charts several categories, including total pitches, first-pitch strikes and leadoff outs.
Braud goes to a full count and strikes out in the leadoff position. First baseman Cassie Reilly-Boccia, who is batting fifth, quickly corners her for a pop quiz. Reilly-Boccia wants a scouting report, but not on South Carolina pitcher Katelynn Howser. she wants to know about home-plate umpire mark Thompson.
“Is he consistent?”
“Is he calling that ball on the outside corner?”
“Do I need to protect (the outside corner) with two striker?”
When she’s done asking questions, Reilly-Boccia directs traffic. she notices two bat girls are standing in an area where a foul ball could get through into the dugout, and ushers them behind a protective screen.
When Fenton, steps up to the plate, backup catcher Jordan Patterson gathers players to chant in unison.
“Sweet seven on three,” she calls out.
Fenton wears jersey no. 7, and part of the language of the dugout is that players can be referred to by their number. Players with double numbers such as Traina, no. 33, and Locke, no. 22, are called “Threes” and “Twos.”
When Fenton steals second base, Patterson leads the chant:
“one, two, three,” she yells, and players join in with a loud, “Sweeeeeet seven!”
Locke, positioned next to Murphy along the end of the rail closest to home plate, yells encouragement to the next batter, Lunceford, who draws a walk.
Adam Arbour, a volunteer assistant coach, sits on an upside-down plastic ball bucket at the front of the dugout, charting South Carolina’s pitches. Locke steps down to confer with him.
“the only thing she throws that’s a strike, really, is a changeup,” Locke says.
Arbour advises that Howser has also gotten her curveball over for a strike.
Shortstop Kaila Hunt also walks, and South Carolina brings in a new pitcher.
Reilly-Boccia, drawing on Braud’s report of the umpire’s strike zone, milks relief pitcher Kierstyn White for a five-pitch walk to bring in a run.
Backup catcher Olivia Gibson turns to pitching coach Stephanie VanBrakle: “these are the kind of exciting games you like to be a part of,” Gibson says. “Walk in a run.”
It gets more exciting when Locke bats with the bases loaded.
“Take it deep, Locke, take it deep,” Dawson screams.
Locke does just that, blasting a grand slam over the fence in left-center. as players file out of the dugout to greet her at home plate, Murphy calls over Arbour to get a quick report on the South Carolina pitcher.
Junior pitcher Lauren Sewell isn’t dressed out. she wears shorts and a T-shirt and a large brace on her right leg, which she has worn since season-ending knee surgery a few weeks ago. a manager has set one of those upside-down buckets for her at the back of the dugout so she can watch the action from a sitting position. she smiles as she starts a friendly argument with Fenton over who first called Locke’s home run.
Traina follows Locke’s homer with one of her own, and second baseman Danae Hays makes it three in a row.
Bell finds Locke toward the back of the dugout and waves her hand in front of her face, one of those hand signals that only the softball sisters understand. They call out together, “It’s hot up in here.”
When Hays makes her way back to the dugout, fellow freshman Danielle Richard grabs her around the waist and hoists her high.
Sewell cups her hands around her mouth and says, “Big ol’ Dan,” and other players join in the chant.
Locke takes a leadership role as Braud comes up for the second time in the inning, this time with two outs. Locke goes up and down the rail to get her teammates’ attention.
“Let’s get loud for Braud,” she says. “you agree? you agree? Let’s do it.”
They get loud, but Braud strikes out and Alabama finishes the inning with a 7-0 lead.
Top of the second
VanBrakle takes a seat on the foremost bucket to signal pitches to Bell. When Dawson catches Traina, the senior catcher calls the pitches. With the rookie behind the plate, VanBrakle flashes fingers to Bell to give her the next pitch call, which Bell relays to Traina.
South Carolina’s Chelsea Hawkins hits a solo home run with one out. the Alabama dugout barely reacts.
“It’s OK, Jack,” Richard hollers. “Let’s go.”
The next batter pops up, and the following batter takes a second strike when home-plate ump Thompson appeals to first base on a check swing.
“she went, yeah,” Murphy says loudly to the ump. “You’ve got to see that. she went halfway around!”
One pitch later, Traina is out of the inning and UA is up 7-1.
Bottom of the second
Alabama plates nine runs on five hits, five walks and a hit batter its second time up, but the dugout is abuzz over what happened on one pitch. Reilly-Boccia misses a bunt attempt for her second strike, popping the ball back and into the net. she follows it up by driving in two runs with a single, but the missed bunt ignites a discussion that carries from player to player.
“Did she miss a signal?”
“What was that?”
Players discuss what the signal may have been, and what the batter should have done.
About three weeks ago, Alabama raised the dugout railing a foot or so — to chest-high for the players — and installed more netting. this came after Murphy was hit in the face by a line drive that was fouled into the dugout, and after several players had close calls. UA players duck down behind the netting when Locke, a right-handed power hitter who has pulled several foul balls into the dugout area, steps into the batter’s box.
Players rise back up to a standing position after Locke walks, then Traina hits a hard foul ball that goes into the netting in the back part of the dugout. the ball knocks over Sewell’s water bottle. Players pay little attention.
“It’s all right, everybody,” Sewell calls out in full voice. “I’m OK.”
Lunceford, who doubled in a run at the start of the inning, realizes her ponytail is coming undone. she asks Gibson to help restore it to order during a break as South Carolina makes another pitching change. Teammates gather around to kid Lunceford, suggesting she has a weave — an extension integrated into her real hair.
“you going to get a new one?” VanBrakle says, trying to sound serious.
Reilly-Boccia scores on a bases-loaded walk. the mystery of the missed bunt is again the hot topic.
“Did you see that sign I missed?” she says as soon as she’s back in the dugout. “I got confused. (Murphy) wanted me to take. He did the take sign last.”
As Alabama’s big inning continues, Fenton and Hunt discuss the new pitcher’s grip and release. Fenton promptly doubles in three runs. the dugout again empties to greet the players coming home, then everyone turns and waves to Fenton at second.
During the break, Murphy walks to the rail and gets Traina’s attention. He wants to make sure his pitcher doesn’t get too comfortable with the big lead.
“you give them nothing,” Murphy says. “you understand me? Nothing.”
As the lead grows, Murphy begins to empty the bench and get his reserves into the game. Names are crossed off on the lineup card on the wall as new players enter.
He calls upon freshman Jadyn Spencer.
“I don’t care what the score is,” he tells her. “you have a great at-bat. Let’s go.”
Spencer gives the ball a nice ride to left field with a long fly ball for the third out. Alabama is up 16-1.
Top of the third
Traina walks South Carolina’s first batter. Murphy turns his attention to Thompson’s strike zone.
“Where is that?” he calls out to the ump when the fourth ball is called.
“Hey, Chaunsey, is that a strike?” he asks his catcher.
She indicates the ball was low.
“Oh my goodness,” Murphy says. “It’s not low. Come on.”
Traina gives up an infield hit, and Murphy sprints out for a quick visit. another walk loads the bases, and Murphy isn’t happy.
“You’ve been calling it (a strike) all day long,” Murphy comments, loudly.
Triana gets a long fly ball for the third out.
Bottom of the third
Bell, the rookie catcher, is looking for feedback. she checks with Traina to make sure the pitcher can see her pitch calls. Hays comes over to tell her that she is having trouble seeing some calls from second base, and Bell thanks her for the input. Bell tells Spencer, who has subbed in at first base, to step to the foul side of the bag when the catcher steps out to the right to throw the ball to the base.
The backups get their turns at bat this time up, and the upperclassmen are vocal in their support.
Patterson hits a hard line drive to center field, but right at the outfielder, who gloves it for the first out.
Fenton likes what she sees.
“Let’s get her,” she calls out, and the team steps up to greet Patterson as she returns to the dugout.
“That felt good,” Patterson says.
“you were right on it,” Bell says.
“I know. Dang it,” the batter replies.
Ryan Iamurri bats next and also makes hard contact on a fly ball that’s caught for an out in left field. Fenton again organizes a greeting as Iamurri comes off the field.
With the huge lead, Alabama players can have some fun. Dawson puts a paper cup in the back of her jersey, drags her right foot behind her and limps around the dugout as she shows off her imitation of Quasimodo, of “Hunchback of Notre Dame” fame.
When Jackey Branham is called out looking at a third strike, Murphy’s ire at the home plate umpire boils over. He makes his point, and Thompson tosses him from the game.
In the dugout, Alabama players celebrate.
“Murphy, Murphy, Murphy,” they chant.
Murphy smiles as he walks down the rail to make his way off the field, with players slapping him on the back and giving him high-fives.
Hays laughs and shakes her head.
“That was great,” she says.
Players and managers quickly corner assistant coach Habetz and volunteer to fill in for Murphy.
Top of the fourth
Traina struggles, more with Thompson’s strike zone than with South Carolina’s batters. she gives up a single, a walk and a two-out double that brings in two runs for the Gamecocks.
“Pop the rock, Jack,” Richard calls out to her. “Pop the rock.”
Locke joins in: “Nobody better, sis. Nobody better.”
Habetz and VanBrakle confer over whether to call time for a visit. At the far end of the dugout, Reilly-Boccia is in Conley’s ear at third base.
“you talk to her, Court” Reilly-Boccia says. “make sure to talk to her.”
Jury goes to the bullpen to warm up, in case she is needed in relief. Traina gives up another run on a single, then gets a strikeout for the third out.
Bottom of the fourth
Braud steps into the on-deck circle, then comes back to ask for a heavier bat. It turns out to be a good choice. she hits a single to left, and an error by the outfielder allows her to motor all the way to third base.
Keima Davis hits a sacrifice fly to bring Braud home, and the players march up the three steps and onto the field to congratulate both players.
Lunceford, ponytail still a mess, blasts a solo home run to right-center. Fenton runs up to her when she finishes circling the bases.
“you hit a bomb!” Fenton yells. “That was a bomb!”
Hunt makes it back-to-back as she adds to UA’s lead with a solo shot down the left-field line.
“We’re definitely not wasting any at-bats,” Conley comments.
When Patterson comes up with two outs, Dawson and Locke engage in a philosophical debate while shouting instructions.
“Join the club, Jo, join the club,” Dawson bellows to the batter, calling for another home run.
Locke adheres to the sign posted in the back of the dugout. It says “Process,” with a line under the word and “Outcome” under the line, echoing one of Murphy’s coaching themes: process over outcome.
“It’s a process,” Locke barks to Patterson. “Don’t listen to her.”
Dawson: “Take it deep, Jo, take it deep. Home run club, home run club.”
Locke, laughing and trying to put a hand over Dawson’s mouth: “Don’t listen to her.”
Patterson walks on four pitches.
“Take your walk,” Locke says, triumphant.
Jury, who rarely bats, gets the nod to pinch hit.
“L-J, L-J, L-J,” comes the chant from the dugout. the players’ excitement and noise brings several fans to their feet as Jury steps out.
She grounds out to shortstop, ending the inning.
Top of the fifth
With the mercy rule in play, Alabama is three outs away from victory. Hays and Richard start policing the dugout, picking up paper cups.
Jury enters to pitch the final inning. At the back of the dugout, Locke sits on a bucket and Traina sits on her teammates knee, like a kid visiting Santa Claus, as they watch the rookie.
“you got ‘em, Les,” Traina shouts.
“Attaway,” Locke calls on the first out.
Fenton looks over to Locke.
“you ready to go?” she says.
“Yeah, I’m ready,” Locke answers.
Jury coaxes a double-play ball to end the game. Locke and Traina are the first on the field to congratulate her.
Alabama players go out to shake hands with South Carolina players, gather up their gear, and leave. the game is over, and the dugout is empty.
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.