College Sports

Carolina Forest grad Runyon steps into spotlight for Alabama softball squad

Alabama’s Marisa Runyon (center) celebreates with teammates after hitting a game-winning grand slam against Oklahoma on Saturdya.
Alabama’s Marisa Runyon (center) celebreates with teammates after hitting a game-winning grand slam against Oklahoma on Saturdya. AL.com via The Associated Press

Winning a softball Super Regional with a go-ahead grand slam was one thing for Marisa Runyon.

Inspiring a social media hashtag? To that, the Alabama sensation and former Carolina Forest star can only blush.

Runyon and her Crimson Tide teammates will be returning to the College World Series on Thursday. They’ll be headed back to Oklahoma City in their first game since Runyon’s sixth-inning blast propelled them past Oklahoma on Saturday evening.

Within minutes of that bomb to right field, the “Home Runyon” tag and/or several variations were trending on Twitter. It was an extension of the attention she has been getting from fans throughout what could be described as her breakout college season.

“It’s a humbling experience,” Runyon, a sophomore, said by phone this week. “You don’t really realize until you come here. But there are so many little girls and little boys, even, that look up to you. When they come to every single game and they’re asking for your autograph afterward, it’s so humbling. That’s when you realize that’s why you played when you were growing up. You wanted to be at that big stage.”

The biggest the college sport has to offer is Oklahoma City, and Runyon’s played a vital role in Alabama’s 10th trip in the past 19 years.

She is top five in the nation and second in the Southeastern Conference in runs batted in (79), a figure that also is tied for the Alabama single-season record. Eleven times this year she’s had at least four RBIs in a game. She’s also among the top 20 nationally in home runs (19) while batting .335 with 12 doubles and 36 runs.

She was selected as a National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-South Region selection and is under consideration for NFCA All-American honors, expected to be announced this week.

“It’s been a hell of a year for her. She’s a great kid,” said coach Patrick Murphy, whose team plays Michigan at 7 p.m. on ESPN2 on Thursday. “She’s perfect for the sport of softball because her demeanor is low-key, very even-keeled. As a hitter, you’re going to fail six out of 10. She seems OK with that.”

Probably because of what she’s done with the rest, including Saturday’s home run. The inning before – and with Runyon having gone hitless in her past 13 at-bats – a situational pinch hitter was used in an attempt to get runners on base.

In the sixth, she re-entered, came to the plate with the bases loaded and took the first pitch out of the park. Tide pitcher Alexis Osorio closed it out in the top of the seventh.

After running into the stands to celebrate with fans, an appearance in a packed media room and then back to a gathering of fans for more autographs, Runyon received a message about what the home run meant from her coach. In short, he told her that she was now one of the Alabama’s most memorable student-athletes.

“I don’t think she realizes what she’s done,” Murphy said. “It was on ESPN. It was a huge game against a great opponent. Incredible circumstances – 0-for-13 [and] getting pinch hit the time before. Our theme the entire year has been grit. Everybody that’s a fan of Alabama softball knows about that, and now realizes that Marisa Runyon has it.

“She has cemented herself an incredible legacy with one swing of the bat.”

For many locally, the continuation of her post-Carolina Forest success – where she was twice The Sun News Toast of the Coast Player of the Year and Class AAAA All-State selection – at Alabama has appeared natural.

Even as a freshman, she batted just shy of .300 with five home runs playing roughly half the team’s games. This season, though, she’s an everyday starter who continues to excel.

And she’s doing it for a team that’s still alive for a title.

“When it came down to choosing a college, my ultimate decision was I wanted to go to a school where I can compete for a national championship,” she said. “Playing time, obviously I wanted to play. But I wanted to be a part of a team that was bigger than myself. It kind of hit me [Monday] when we were at practice and we’re one of eight teams in the country that are practicing. We’re going to be one of eight teams in Oklahoma City. It’s just so surreal.”

Contact IAN GUERIN at ian@ianguerin.com.

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