May 4, 2008
KNOXVILLE – After Saturday night’s 11-inning marathon that lasted until nearly 11 p.m. local time, No. 12 Tennessee (46-13, 14-12 Southeastern Conference) and No. 2 Florida (59-2, 27-1 SEC) managed to keep Sunday’s afternoon finale to just seven frames as the Gators rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to register a 5-3 victory at the Lee Softball Stadium.
The Lady Vols matched UF’s hit total in the match-up by banging out eight base knocks. Senior designated player Shannon Doepking blasted her third home run of the season as part of a 2-for-4 effort with two RBIs, granting the Big Orange a quick 2-0 lead in the opening frame with her big fly. The HR was the first allowed by Florida hurler Stacey Nelson in over 253 innings in 2008.
Junior left fielder Lillian Hammond delivered a 2-for-4 performance with a run scored. With a walk, senior third baseman Tonya Callahan recorded her 52nd free pass of the season, breaking an SEC single-season record (51) formerly held by Alabama All-American Kelly Kretschman and Mississippi State All-American Iyhia McMichael. By recording her 17th steal of the campaign, freshman right fielder Kelly Grieve also made some program history by breaking the Tennessee freshman stolen base record of 16, formerly possessed by three-time Lady Vol All-American Lindsay Schutzler (2004).
From the circle UT senior Megan Rhodes fell to 19-8 on the season after allowing two runs on a pair of hits over 2.0 innings of relief. The Nashville, Tenn., native’s appearance came on the heels of a 227-pitch, complete-game effort in last night’s marathon loss. Freshman starter Ashton Ward permitted a pair of scores on three hits in the opening 2.0 frames, while junior reliever Danielle Pieroni worked three solid innings, allowing one tally on a trio of base knocks.
“Florida is a tremendous team and is very deserving of the SEC Championship,” Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “Alabama is also an outstanding team (finished just behind UF for title). When you out-hit a great offensive team like Florida with 25 total hits over three games, steal four bases and score nine runs off an All-American pitcher in Stacey Nelson, you expect to win a couple. Our problem in this series was in the circle where we walked 16 total hitters, at least eight coming to lead-off an inning, and threw eight wild pitches with four leading to scores. With the postseason about to begin, I think all the league teams that are qualified for Baton Rouge, La., (SEC Tourney) or who will be selected to the NCAA field will represent our conference very well.”
After Ward retired the Gators one-two-three in the top of the first, Tennessee quickly jumped in front against UF hurler Stacey Nelson by scoring in the first inning for the 25th time in 2008. A one-out single off the bat of Hammond got something started and Doepking cashed it in with a two-run homer off the scoreboard in left center for a 2-0 advantage. Amazingly, the HR was the first allowed by Nelson in 253.2 innings pitched in the ’08 campaign.
Florida designated player Megan Bush christened a one-out threat in the top of the second by drawing a walk off Ward. Right fielder Mary Ratliff followed with a bouncing single through the right side of the infield placing two aboard. A wild offering allowed both runners the opportunity to advance 60 feet into scoring position. Shortstop Le-Net Franklin got caught looking at strike three for an important second retirement. Ward got ahead of catcher Kristina Hilberth 0-2 before she hit one right off the end of the bat that checked up right in front of the plate for a single to load the bags. Third baseman Corrie Brooks also fell behind 0-2 before also staring at a third strike ending the frame with a trio left stranded.
In the top of the third lead-off batter Kim Waleszonia drew a walk and eventually moved to second on a wild pitch. Second baseman Aja Paculba ripped a shot just off the glove of Callahan at third and down the line for a double as Waleszonia scored cutting the UT lead to 2-1. Co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly lifted Ward, who was coming off an illness that limited her to no practice time this past week, and summoned in Rhodes in relief. Having thrown a staggering 227 pitches last night, the Tennessee hurler worked to 3-2 against first baseman Ali Gardiner before allowing a run-scoring two-bagger off the wall in center field dead-locking the contest at 2-2. She rebounded to coerce a fly out to center from left fielder Francesca Enea and struck out Bush for two outs. Ratliff granted the Gators the lead, however, with a double just off the glove of leaping sophomore Erinn Webb at the fence in center scoring pinch runner Danyell Hines for a 3-2 lead.
Hammond tried to get something going in response in the bottom of the third by slapping a double just inside the chalk down the left field line for a one-out double. Callahan drew her 52nd walk of the year, breaking the SEC single-season record, placing two runners aboard for Doepking. The Acton, Calif., native bounced back to the circle as Nelson fielded the ball, turned quickly and cut down Hammond at third. Sophomore catcher Tiffany Huff worked the count full and fouled off several pitches before delivering an inning-ending infield pop-up.
With one retired in the bottom of the fourth, Tennessee’s Webb ripped a double to the wall in left center. A wild pitch from Nelson permitted the runner to advance to third. With the tying score standing just 60 feet away from the plate, UT’s Kajitani dropped a perfect sacrifice squeeze bunt bringing the run across to make it 3-3. On the toss to the plate by Nelson, the ball traveled over the catcher’s head for an error allowing Kajitani to reach scoring position. Grieve drew a walk placing two runners aboard, but a strikeout and a ground ball to short ended the frame with the contest dead-locked.
The Gators answered right back in the top of the fifth with the benefit of a lead-off walk issued by Rhodes to Paculba. Pieroni was summoned into the contest in relief for the Lady Vols and on her first offering permitted a no-out double to the wall in left center, plating the UF runner for a 4-3 advantage. The new pitcher responded by inducing a foul out to left fielder Hammond, an infield pop-up from Enea and a routine ground ball to first, ending the inning with no further damage.
The offensive fireworks continued in the bottom of the fifth as Doepking laced a one-out double into right center. Huff followed with a single down the left field line placing runners at first and third with just one down. Freshman first baseman Jen Lapicki lifted a fly down the left field line into foul territory, but not quite deep enough to score the runner from third. That proved unfortunate as a strikeout ended the inning leaving two more Big Orange occupants stranded on the base paths.
Pieroni kept the Gator line-up in check through the top of the sixth, but bidding to tie the contest in the bottom of the sixth the Big Orange had Grieve, who reached on a base knock, thrown out at third on a steal attempt ending a potential threat.
Florida added a valuable insurance run in the top of the seventh as a bases loaded wild pitch from Pieroni permitted Waleszonia to score from third for a 5-3 lead.
Down to its final opportunity in regulation, UT’s Hammond popped up on the infield for the first out. Callahan and Doepking each grounded to short as Franklin made both plays for Florida to secure the triumph for the Orange & Blue.
No. 12 Tennessee’s next action will be on Thursday, May 8, in the opening round of the annual SEC Tournament in Baton Rouge, La. The fourth-seeded Lady Vols will face fifth-seeded Georgia at noon Eastern Time. Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com.
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