BATON ROUGE, La. – Lady Vol senior pitcher Megan Rhodes fired a complete game from the circle and sophomore Erinn Webb knocked in three runs as No. 14 Tennessee (47-13) downed No. 25 Georgia (43-22), 5-2, in opening round action on Thursday, May 8th, at Tiger Park in Baton Rouge, La. With the triumph, UT swept all four games from the Bulldogs during the 2008 season.
Webb was responsible for a two-run double in the third inning and a RBI single in the fifth, upping her RBI count on the season to 37. Sophomore catcher Tiffany Huff was 1-for-1 with a run scored, two walks and an RBI. Senior third baseman Tonya Callahan delivered a single in her lone official at-bat while drawing free passes number 53 and 54 of the campaign, including No. 19 intentionally. In the contest, the Big Orange managed to draw eight walks off Georgia starting pitcher Christie Hamilton (6 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 8 BB, 4 K’s).
Rhodes allowed just two earned runs on five hits with four strikeouts in a complete-game effort, improving to 20-8 on the season. In four games this year against the Bulldogs, the Nashville, Tenn., native was 4-0 overall with a 1.75 ERA and 11 K’s over 20.0 innings of work.
“Megan did a great job of shutting down the top of Georgia’s order and not giving up hits with runners in scoring position,” Lady Vol co-head coach Karen Weekly said. “The homer is the only run I’d credit to Megan, since we should have made a play on the other score. She made the tough pitches when she needed to, and is a perfect example of a senior stepping up when needed in the postseason. We also needed Erinn Webb today. She was our offensive heroine of the game. I’d still like to see more damage done with the bases loaded, but it’s the postseason, so you survive and advance. Georgia is a tough team to play. They are always coming after you from the first pitch until the last.”
Right from the start opening the first inning, Rhodes fell behind lead-off hitter Sojourner Moody 3-0 before rebounding to register a strikeout. UGA center fielder Taylor Schlopy drew a four-pitch free pass, and left fielder Megan Wiggins also was retired on a K for the second out. Third baseman Alisa Goler lifted a blooper to left field that junior Lillian Hammond didn’t appear to get a good jump on as the sphere dropped in front of her for a double, plating Schlopy all the way from first for a quick 1-0 Bulldog lead. Catcher Melissa Wood popped up to Callahan in foul ground outside of third to end the inning, but not before Georgia had taken an early advantage. UT was just 11-6 entering today’s contest when allowing its opponent to score first.
The bottom of the first opened in promising fashion for the Lady Vols as senior shortstop Kenora Posey drew a lead-off walk against UGA starter Christie Hamilton and immediately swiped second for her team-best 41st steal of the season. Hammond bounced back to the circle, advancing the runner up to third with just one down. Georgia head coach Lu Harris-Champer made the decision to intentionally walk SEC Player of the Year Tonya Callahan, her 19th intentional free pass of the campaign to move her into fifth alone on the single-season NCAA Division I list in that category. Surprisingly, Callahan took off for second as part of a double steal, sliding in just ahead of a tag as Posey raced home from third to dead-lock the contest. On shortstop Kristin Schnake’s errant throw to the plate, Callahan advanced up 60 feet. Following a groundout from senior designated player Shannon Doepking, sophomore catcher Tiffany Huff ripped a shot to center that turned an eventually leaping Schlopy completely around in a circle before the ball tipped off her glove for a run scoring double as UT nabbed a 2-1 lead. Freshman first baseman Jen Lapicki walked to place a pair aboard for Erinn Webb, but the freshman center fielder flied out to left completing the frame.
After a double play concluded the Georgia second, Lady Vol sophomore second baseman Nicole Kajitani ripped a 2-2 pitch through the left side christening the bottom half of the inning. A sharp one-out slap to right off the bat of Posey looked promising, but UGA’s Victoria Sanders managed to drift over and corral the ball. Hammond bounced down to third for the final out as Kajitani remained stranded at first.
Callahan opened the bottom of the third by beating out an infield hit that traveled deep into the hole at short. Doepking’s perfect sacrifice bunt advanced the runner into scoring position with just one retired. A walk issued to Huff placed two Lady Vols aboard the base paths, and with two down, Webb launched a double into the right center field gap that rolled all the way to the wall, scoring both runners for a 4-1 Tennessee advantage.
A string of six consecutive batters retired by Rhodes ended in the top of the fifth as Schnake sharply lined a one-out homer off a metal sign just beyond the left field wall, cutting the Georgia deficit to 4-2. Newly inserted left fielder Danielle Pieroni handled a pair of mid-range fly outs to left to back her hurler as the Big Orange maintained its lead.
Hamilton issued consecutive walks to Callahan, Doepking and Huff, loading the bases for UT beginning the bottom of the fifth. A fielder’s choice to short off the bat of Lapicki cut down the lead runner at the plate recording the first out of the frame. Webb delivered a single through the right side to post her third RBI of the afternoon, as senior pinch runner Caitlin Ryan crossed for a 5-2 advantage. The aftermath of Webb’s base knock turned bizarre, however, as Huff was thrown out at home plate on a strong throw in from right field by Sanders and Lapicki was cut down at third by a toss from Wood behind the plate completing an unfortunate double play for the Orange & White.
With one final opportunity to claw back into the contest in the top of the seventh, UGA’s Jennie Auger and Schnake each were retired via infield pop-up. With two down Sanders lined a shot to center for a single to grant the Bulldogs some brief life. Moody got in front of Rhodes in the count 3-0, before the UT hurler battled back to induce a 3-2 ground ball to short completing the UT triumph.
No. 14 Tennessee will battle the winner of Thursday’s contest between top-seeded and No.1-ranked Florida and eighth-seeded Ole Miss on Friday, May 9, at 6 p.m. ET in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament in Baton Rouge, La. Live stats and video will be available through utladyvols.com.