There have been a lot of great ones at the University of Alabama, and if they were watching on Friday night then they were in awe, too.
And, like everyone on the field in Oklahoma City, exploding with joy.
True greatness has that combustible power, and so it was with the wonderful Montana Fouts on the final out of her perfect game in Alabama’s 6-0 victory against UCLA in the Women’s College World Series. The achievement was historic, but the celebration by her teammates is the thing that reached into the soul and grabbed at something universal.
Everyone was so happy for their towering teammate in a way that spoke to more than just Fouts’ skill and its achievement. It was pure, and beautiful, and shared. It was collegial. The stunning athleticism by Fouts was a display of individual dominance, but the reaction by her teammates after that last pop fly was a testimony to her humble grace, too.
“To throw a perfect game against legendary UCLA is something else for a kid from a small town from northeast Kentucky,” Alabama coach Patrick Murphy said, “so just an unbelievable feeling.”
Can’t spell Fouts without the outs.
“And I knew she had a no-hitter,” Murphy went on, “but to be honest with you, I didn’t realize it was a perfect game, so Sarah Cornell had to tell me afterwards, but just fun to watch.”
It was Fouts’ birthday, too. The numerology of the moment was well-noted: 21 batters, 21 outs, 21 years old.
Rich numbers, those. She’s a queen of diamonds, and an ace.
Fouts returns to the circle at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday for the semifinals of the softball national championship tournament. We can’t all be perfect, but we can watch Fouts and dream. Like Alabama football, all of Fouts’ performances are appointment viewing at this point. She is already an all-time Alabama great, and, technically, she still has three years of eligibility remaining after this season. Settle in for the show.
Fouts is a national superstar in the making, in other words, and it’s worth pointing out now that she will probably be the first Alabama athlete to cash in big when NIL rules are passed by the NCAA allowing college athletes to earn money for their celebrity. NIL is going to change college athletics, and one of the upshots will be making sports like softball more popular thanks to players like Fouts.
How does perfection feel?
Fouts said that pride for her teammates was the strongest emotion of the night. She didn’t even consider her perfect game until it was all over.
“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,” Fouts said. “I was just locked in each pitch because I know that one swing away they have momentum.
“They’re a great hitting team, great pitching staff, we respect them so much. So I think — Murph says all the time — respect your opponents. And tonight for me I think that that just meant locking in pitch by pitch, just because I know the game could get away in a heartbeat.”
Alabama could face UCLA again in the championship final, but the Bruins now have to fight through the elimination bracket to get there. Fouts’ perfect game was the first for the Women’s College World Series since 2000, but her two-game strikeout total in Oklahoma City might be more impressive. She had 14 against UCLA, and 16 against Arizona. That’s 30 Ks over 42 outs.
Alabama’s sports information team noted after the victory against UCLA that Fouts needs 18 strikeouts to break the school record for a season (361) set by Jackie Traina in 2012.
Throwing hard isn’t enough, Fouts said. Not at this level. The batters are too good. She has reached a different level as a pitcher by controlling movement.
“I love to throw hard, but the best hitters in the country, you can’t throw 90 or they’re going to hit it,” Fouts said. “I just think spin, spin, spin, and speed does help and I appreciate my speed, but at the same time, that’s not always there, so you got to rely a lot more on spin.”
And then, when the spin needed help against UCLA, Fouts found Jesus. No, seriously. That’s what she said. Fouts’ divine performance against UCLA came with a little help from up above, it turns out.
In the second inning, Fouts’ necklace became stuck in her protective mask. It was a sign, according to the hurler.
“It’s only happened a couple times, but usually I can get it undone myself,” said the pitcher. “I think I left a couple of pitches — I wasn’t really happy with the spin on them, and I thought they were a little flat. So, I ran from the dugout and I told Steph I thought Jesus was trying to tell me something, spin it a little bit.”
Wait … Jesus wanted more curve?
“I think that’s what he was trying to tell me, so…,” Fouts said.
Pitching is more religion than science, the great ones will all readily profess, and this one for Alabama is a prophet of fun.