Montana Fouts and Odicci Alexander Give Softball a Night to Remember


About 400 miles of what is mostly Appalachia separates Grayson, Kentucky from South Hill, Virginia. For most of four-plus decades of the Women’s College World Series, it was a part of the map as relevant to elite softball as the Sahara Desert.

It is the softball hinterlands. Here be dragons

Friday, Alabama’s Montana Fouts and James Madison’s Odicci Alexander made it the center of the softball universe. 

All because each refused to believe a stage like Hall of Fame Stadium wasn’t for them. And put in the work to prove it. 

James Madison and Alabama are moving on to the semifinals, but Alexander and Fouts made Friday one of the most remarkable nights in World Series history. Refusing to bow to runners on second and third with no outs and a one run lead in the seventh inning against Oklahoma State, let alone falter in the face of her sudden national fame, Alexander produced a play for the ages. It wasn’t supposed to be possible to do something more memorable than beating Oklahoma a day earlier, but darned if she didn’t try with a diving tag to prevent the tying run at the plate. 

Not willing to cede top billing, Fouts then came out and threw the first perfect game in 21 years in the World Series — against UCLA and two-time national player of the year Rachel Garcia. 

Their stories aren’t the same. Fouts plays in the SEC for one of the most established programs in the sport and the No. 3 seed this season. Alexander plays in the Colonial Athletic Association for the first unseeded team ever to win its first two games in the World Series. But they have more in common than it might appear. They grew up desperate to play the sport in places that don’t produce softball legends, Fouts in eastern Kentucky and Alexander in southern Virginia. They emerged with more passion to compete than polish to succeed at the highest level.  

Friday, they showed how far they’ve come. 

Alexander dazzled in Thursday’s opening game against Oklahoma, her pitches popping the catcher’s glove and enticing some of the best hitters the college game has ever seen to swing at pitches they couldn’t reach with a step ladder. It was the kind of performance that, like the best of Monica Abbott or Cat Osterman, made you realize how insanely difficult it is to hit a softball thrown from 43 feet away by someone with a talent for making it dance or sizzle. 

She didn’t dazzle Friday. The super senior simply stared down one of the nation’s best lineups until it blinked.  

“Her mentality and her growth and her maturity is what’s getting it done,” LaPorte said. “She’s always had the physical part of things, but where her mindset is right now, it’s unbelievable.”

By Alexander’s own admission, she didn’t have her best stuff. She finished with just two strikeouts. But even after an obstruction call during a long rundown left her facing those runners on second and third with no outs in the seventh inning, instead of a lone runner on second with one out, she had the wherewithal to make that play at the plate. With no time to shovel the ball to the catcher, no time even to take the ball out of her glove, she dove and tagged Scotland David just before the pinch runner could touch the plate. 

Yet just to get to the point when she could make a play that will live forever on highlights, Alexander had to turn to craft and guile. Relying often on the changeup she honed only this season, she kept Oklahoma State hitters off balance even if she didn’t overpower them. The Cowgirls didn’t strike out, but they matched a season low with just three hits. 

The Alexander of previous seasons, the self-taught and self-critical standout who went from watching Youtube tutorials to pitching in front of the largest crowds in the history of college softball the past two days, might not have still been protecting a one-run lead when the opportunity came to make the play of the season. 

“I think what was important was when she came in the dugout,” LaPorte said, “She had conversations with [assistants Jennifer Herzig and Libby Morris], just, ‘OK, let’s not throw this here, this isn’t working as much.’ And that’s important because sometimes things don’t work. I think she figured it out and she kind of beared down, like we needed to do. And her changeup was really effective in those last two innings.” 

Fouts didn’t struggle against UCLA on her birthday, striking out 14 batters in the fifth perfect game in World Series history and first since Courtney Blades in 2000, but there was some suffering to get there. 

Kaylee Tow suggested the roots of Fouts’ Friday perfection took hold this past August, when Fouts was routinely the first to arrive at practice and the last to leave. Patrick Murphy went back beyond even that, to last spring, when he said Fouts told him she wouldn’t have another season like 2020 (which was hardly a failure with a 2.04 ERA when play stopped due to the pandemic). 

Whatever the timeline, the important point is that this didn’t happen overnight. We watched Fouts go from a very good pitcher to arguably the best in college softball in a matter of weeks — she was perfect against UCLA but she has been nearly unhittable since the start of the SEC tournament. The process that made that possible was more involved. It would be for any pitcher but all the more for someone, as Murphy said, who came from the smallest of small towns in Kentucky. She dominated high school hitters with a curve and velocity — but without the spin and rise that befuddled Clemson, Kentucky, Arizona and UCLA hitters in the tournament. 

“I didn’t really throw any movement pitches or anything other than a fastball until I was 13 or 14,” Fouts said early in her time at Alabama. “Just location and being able to hit your spot as hard as you can every time, that was something me and my dad really invested in. … That was one thing, just hitting the spot that I wanted to five out of five times.”

Grayson may be out of the way, but Fouts didn’t come out of nowhere — she was already drawing interest from major programs in middle school. As high school progressed, she faced good competition in travel ball. But she wasn’t going to arrive in Tuscaloosa a finished product. 

“We knew she had the speed, but when she got the movement it was going to be pretty special,” Murphy said. “Nobody wants to take any time anymore. It has to be instant gratification. It takes time to develop these pitches.” 

No one who watched her against Arizona and UCLA, let along over the past month, will question how much time she put in with Murphy and pitching coach Stephanie VanBrakle Prothro. 

It wasn’t that much different a story than what played out in Friday’s opening game. The polish eventually caught up with the passion. 

Each pitcher arrived at a starring role Friday by traveling a path that would have seemed the stuff of fantasy just a couple of decades ago. 

People who grow up in South Hill, Virginia don’t take down the Big 12. People who grow up in Grayson, Kentucky don’t silence Arizona and UCLA. Except they do. Or at least they can. With a little patience and a lot of work, they can do anything. They can even be perfect. 

“I’ve just seen this journey for her as she’s grown into an awesome pitcher and an awesome woman,” Tow said of Fouts. “But I think it’s the confidence she brings and the refusal to lose. You can see it in her eyes. … She’s grown into a confident woman, and you see that out on the mound.” 

It sounded a lot like the way Alexander’s teammate spoke about her. 

Which is why we have Grayson, Kentucky and South Hill, Virginia to thank for a night to remember.