KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Led by another outstanding performance in the circle by freshman Ashton Ward, the fifth-ranked Tennessee softball team (13-1) cruised to a 4-0 shutout over Louisiana-Monroe, Saturday evening to clinch the event title at the Tennessee Classic held at the Sherri Parker Lee Softball Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.
Ward allowed just one baserunner in seven innings of work for the Big Orange, giving up just one hit and striking out a career-high nine en route to her eighth victory of the season. Offensively, the Lady Vols were paced by a pair of 2-for-3 efforts by senior Shannon Doepking and sophomore first baseman Tiffany Huff. A 5-7 senior catcher, Doepking knocked in three of the Orange and White’s four runs in the contest with a couple of RBI singles and a run-scoring groundout. UT’s final tally came on a double by Huff that brought freshman Kelsey Stander in to score.
“The game against Wagner (14-0, 5 inn.) gave us the opportunity to play everyone, as we got all our players in the game by the second inning,” Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “Everyone contributed in that win. Against Louisiana-Monroe, we left too many runners on base. It felt like we had runners in scoring position during every inning, and except for a couple of hitters, we couldn’t get them in. That’s a facet of the game we’ll have to work on in order to improve as we continue this season.”
Tennessee got on the scoreboard first in its nightcap at the Tennessee Classic by pushing across a tally in the bottom of the first against Louisiana-Monroe hurler Kandace Causey. Junior left fielder Lillian Hammond led off the frame with a walk, and senior shortstop Kenora Posey dropped the sacrifice bunt to move her into scoring position. After a long fly out to center by senior third baseman Tonya Callahan, Doepking delivered an RBI single to center to plate Posey for the 1-0 advantage.
With Ward having retired nine of the 10 ULM batters she had faced through three frames of work, the Lady Vol offense worked on adding to its lead. Mogan opened the bottom of the second with a double that blooped in fair territory down the left field line. Posey and Callahan delivered back-to-back ground outs, advancing the runner within 60 feet of scoring. That brought Doepking into the batter’s box with another RBI opportunity. The Acton, Calif., product came through once again as her base knock dropped just over shortstop Jessica Olguin and into short left center, granting the Orange & White a two-run lead.
Ward managed a pair of strikeouts in each of the third and fourth innings and punched out the side in the top of the fifth to up her K total to seven in the contest.
Posey got another Big Orange scoring threat started in the bottom of the fifth by drawing a lead-off walk. Callahan ripped the initial offering she viewed from Causey into center. The Holden, Mo., native eventually slid into second as the throw in from the outfield failed to nail the lead runner. An RBI groundout to short by Doepking plated Posey with Tennessee’s third tally. Huff followed with a double down the left field line into the corner, scoring rookie pinch runner Kelly Grieve to make it 4-0, UT.
Through six frames, Ward had retired 16 Warhawks in a row dating back to a single she allowed to first baseman Jamie Liles with two outs in the first. UT’s hurler from Charlotte, N.C., had no trouble upping that total to 19 through the seventh. Pinch hitter Michelle Farrell-Fink and Liles each went down swinging recording Ward’s eighth and ninth K’s. Brianna Love grounded out to Callahan at third to end the game.
No. 5 UT will conclude the Tennessee Classic on Sunday at Lee Softball Stadium with a match-up against Virginia at noon. Softball action will actually begin at 10 a.m. with Louisiana-Monroe taking on Wagner. Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com for all contests and, as always, periodic updates of the UT games will be recorded on the Lady Vol Hotline (865-974-8700, box #6).