April 26, 2008
STARKVILLE, Miss. – A five-run third inning, a homer from sophomore center fielder Erinn Webb and a perfect 5-for-5 effort at the plate from senior shortstop Kenora Posey helped No. 10 Tennessee (45-10, 14-9 Southeastern Conference) rebound from a defeat in its opener to post a hard-fought 8-6 victory over No. 23 Mississippi State (39-17, 12-12 SEC) in the finale of a Saturday doubleheader at the MSU Softball Field in Starkville, Miss.
Posey guided UT’s 14-hit offensive assault with five consecutive singles from her lead-off spot and, for the doubleheader, hit an impressive .667 (6-of-9) overall. Sophomore catcher Tiffany Huff delivered two RBIs as part of a 1-for-4 performance at the dish with a run scored. Webb’s solo homer marked her seventh of the season as the Hemet, Calif., native went 2-for-4.
Freshman pitcher Ashton Ward fired 6.1 innings in relief of senior starter Megan Rhodes (0.2 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, I K) allowing four earned runs on seven hits with three strikeouts to improve to 27-4 overall and 7-3 in the SEC on the season.
“The first game was great until the bottom of the seventh when MSU had four sharp hits in a row to win it,” Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “Game two was a slugfest. I was proud of the team, and the way they fought back after falling behind 2-0 in the first inning. I was proud of Ashton Ward and the way she came in during the first inning and held off a tough Mississippi State team. Kenora Posey was amazing going 5-for-5, and Kelsey Stander added a little pop at the top of the line-up. Erinn Webb’s home run came at a good time for us. We expect another tough battle tomorrow.”
After the Big Orange left runners stranded at the corners in the top of the first, Mississippi State took advantage of three singles, a walk and a hit batter from Rhodes to post two quick scores for a 2-0, first inning lead. Second baseman Ali Bainbridge and shortstop Courtney Bures registered consecutive one-out singles. Center fielder Hayle Guess drew a free pass to load the bags. Rhodes managed a strikeout of Sammie Jo Bailey for out number two, but pinch hitter Courtney Nesbit came through in the clutch with a single to deep short, plating a run. Tennessee’s hurler struck right fielder Brittany Bell with an offering with the bags packed forcing in another score and making it 2-0 in favor of the Bulldogs. That ended the day in the circle for UT’s starter as Ward was summoned in for a long relief appearance. The Charlotte, N.C., native immediately coerced a ground ball to short off the bat of designated player Jessie Spain to complete the frame.
Tennessee’s defense made a pair of outstanding plays in the bottom of the second to back Ward’s effort in the circle. On a tailing liner to center from MSU left fielder Nakita Boyce, Webb charged to her left and dove fully extended to make a grab for out number one. Posey followed by corralling a bouncer on the run in front of second base before throwing strongly for a retirement to freshman Jen Lapicki. Bainbridge popped out in foul territory outside of first bringing the frame came to a conclusion.
Posey and freshman designated player Kelsey Stander christened the top of the third with consecutive bunt singles out in front of the plate. Senior third baseman Tonya Callahan grounded sharply to third for the initial out as both runners advanced 60 feet into scoring position. A free pass issued by Mississippi State starter Kelsey Nurnberg to senior catcher Shannon Doepking loaded the bases with just one retired. That brought Huff to the dish in the clutch spot and the Saugus, Calif, native came through by lacing a double into left center plating a pair and tying the score at 2-2. With Lapicki occupying the box and the count standing at 2-1, Nurnberg uncorked a wild pitch that permitted Doepking to score Tennessee’s third tally. Huff crossed home on an error committed by MSU third baseman Jessie Bailey on a high chopper by Lapicki. Webb ripped a base knock into center field placing two runners aboard, once again, with still just one retired in the third. Junior left fielder Lillian Hammond slapped a high chopper to second for an out as Lapicki scored making it 5-2. With Webb occupying second, freshman second baseman Chandra Mogan bounced out to short completing an inning that saw nine Lady Vols step to the plate while tallying five runs on four hits, a walk and a MSU error.
The Maroon & White began its comeback attempt in the bottom of the third as Guess drove a 1-1 pitch from Ward just over the wall in left field for a solo home run cutting the deficit to 5-3. UT’s 6-0 right hander settled down after allowing the big fly, inducing a pop-up to second from Sammie Jo Bailey and ending the frame by striking out Nesbit.
In a near replay of the start of the third frame, Posey laced another high chopper on the infield for a lead-off single in the top of the fourth. Stander dropped a sacrifice bunt out in front of the plate and nearly beat the play to first advancing the runner to second. With first base open and just one retired, Mississippi State decided to intentionally walk Callahan, placing a duo aboard. Doepking made the Bulldogs pay by driving a double into right center field that rolled to the wall as Posey brought across Tennessee’s sixth run.
Ward worked quickly through the Bulldog line-up in the bottom of the fourth. Bell was retired by Posey on a pop-up in foul territory down the left field line. Spain and Boyce each grounded out routinely making it five straight retired by UT’s rookie hurler since permitting the solo homer.
Tennessee left a pair of two-out runners stranded in the top of the fifth. Hammond lined a shot directly off reliever Elizabeth Woolven in the circle for a base hit. Posey improved to 4-for-4 in the contest with another slap single, this time a chopper down the first base line. Stander ripped a shot but it traveled straight to Jessie Bailey at third as the MSU fielder threw across the diamond to Sammie Jo Bailey, concluding the threat.
Bainbridge christened a one-out rally for Mississippi State in the bottom half of the fifth by delivering a looper over Callahan’s head at third and down the line for a single. Ward uncorked a wild pitch advancing the runner into scoring position. Bures delivered a single back up the middle and improved to second on another wild offering. With occupants standing at second and third, Ward’s third wild toss of the inning permitted a run to score and cut the gap to 6-4. Guess drove a RBI base knock to center that was eventually misplayed for an error allowing a tally to score and Guess to end up occupying third with still just one out. Callahan corralled a sharp grounder off the bat of Sammie Jo Bailey and fired to Doepking at the plate cutting down the lead runner Guess for a vital second retirement. Nesbit went down swinging for the second time in the contest against Ward as the frame finally came to a close with UT maintaining a razor-thin 6-5 lead.
In the top of the seventh, Tennessee got an important insurance tally as Webb blasted her seventh homer of the campaign over the wall in right making it 7-5. Following singles from Hammond, sophomore pinch hitter Allison Fulmer and Posey, as the latter improved to 5-for-5 in the match-up, Callahan delivered a sacrifice fly to left improving the score to 8-5 as Pieroni crossed.
Down to MSU’s last chance, Bures delivered a base knock to center to grant the Bulldogs an important base runner in the bottom of the seventh. Guess battled Ward over 11 pitches, including five foul balls, before walking to bring the potential tying run to the plate in the form of Sammie Jo Bailey. The Maroon & White first baseman drove a 0-1 offering straight back up the middle as Bures scored to cut the gap to 8-6 and Guess rolled into third. Ward fell behind Nesbit 3-0 before firing a strike right down the middle. At 3-1, Nesbit fouled off an offering to make it a full count and then fouled off three straight pitches before swinging and missing at strike three for a big second out. Bell fell behind 0-2 and then battled to foul off four consecutive pitches before popping up harmlessly to short ending the contest.
No. 10 Tennessee is currently scheduled to complete its three-game series versus Mississippi State on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET at the MSU Softball Field in Starkville, Miss. Current weather forecasts are calling for an 80% chance of thunderstorms in the local area, so please check into utladyvols.com or call the Lady Vol Hotline at (865) 974-8700 (box #6) for further updates.