April 29, 2007
BATON ROUGE, La. – A late seventh-inning rally came up just short for No. 1 Tennessee (51-4, 21-4 SEC) as the Lady Vols dropped a tough 3-2 contest to No. 6 LSU (48-8, 21-4 SEC) in Baton Rouge, La., on Sunday afternoon in front of the second-largest crowd in Tiger Park history (1,531).
With the loss the Big Orange drop into a three-way tie with LSU and Alabama for the top spot in the race for the Southeastern Conference regular season championship. The Bayou Bengals own the tiebreaker in the race for the SEC Tournament’s No. 1 seed over both the Lady Vols and the Crimson Tide by virtue of winning two of three games in the respective squads’ regular-season series.
Senior left fielder India Chiles (1-of-3) got Tennessee on the board in the fifth inning with a sacrifice fly. Freshman Anita Manuma (1-of-1) came through with a clutch RBI double during a spirited Lady Vol rally in the seventh as UT attempted to complete a comeback from an early 3-0 deficit.
Monica Abbott picked up the loss to fall to 39-2 on the season and 18-2 in the SEC by allowing three earned runs on just two hits with four walks. By recording five strikeouts, she equaled the NCAA Division I career strikeout mark of former Texas hurler Cat Osterman at 2,265 K’s.
LSU head coach Yvette Girouard made a significant line-up change on Sunday to face Abbott as two of the three players that managed hits off the 6-3 lefthander in Saturday’s opener moved up from nearer the bottom of the batting order to join lead-off hitter Jazz Jackson in occupying the top three positions. Jackson, who went 1-for-3 versus Abbott in UT’s 2-1 win, started things off with a ground ball to third that Tennessee sophomore Jennifer Griffin corralled easily before throwing on to junior first baseman Tonya Callahan for the initial out. First baseman Vanessa Soto laced a sharp grounder back to the circle that Abbott handled herself. Second baseman Shannon Stein went down swinging to pull Abbott within five K’s of breaking the NCAA record.
After being retired in order in the first, the Lady Vols recorded the first base runner for either team in the top of the second as junior catcher Shannon Doepking ripped a hard bouncer past third baseman Tayl’r Hollis and down the line for a two-out single. Freshman right fielder Erinn Webb concluded the frame by flying out harmlessly to left center.
Responsible for all five RBI in LSU’s 5-1 victory in Saturday’s second contest, center fielder Leslie Klein attempted to get the Tiger offense started again on Sunday by drawing a lead-off walk in the bottom of the second inning to grant the Bayou Bengals’ their initial base occupant. Right fielder Rachel Mitchell battled out of a 1-2 hole to join Klein on the basepaths as Abbott issued a second consecutive free pass. Despite a .390 average entering today, catcher Killian Roessner was asked to drop the sacrifice, but in an attempt to perform the task was struck by an inside pitch to load the bases with no one retired. Hollis worked the count to 3-1 before the home plate umpire called Abbott for taking too much time to throw her next pitch granting the Tigers a base-on-balls that forced in LSU’s first run of the contest. Designated player Kristen Hobbs followed with a sacrifice fly into left center to plate Mitchell for a 2-0 advantage. Shortstop Andrea Smith popped up to Lindsay Schutzler as the UT senior raced in from her position in center almost to the infield dirt to make the grab and prevent the runners from tagging up. Jackson stepped in the box and blooped a base knock just over the glove of a leaping Griffin at third to bring pinch runner Erika Sluss across home plate for a 3-0 lead. Soto grounded back to Abbott to end the frame, but not before the Purple & Gold rang up three runs on just one hit, three walks and a hit batter.
The Big Orange managed a two-out single up the middle by Chiles in the top of the third, but couldn’t start a rally offensively as junior second baseman Kenora Posey popped up to Tiger first baseman Soto to close the frame.
Abbott rebounded from her difficult inning to set down the Bayou Bengals one-two-three in the bottom of the third. The Salinas, Calif., native retired Stein on a fly ball to right field and then struck out the dangerous Klein and then Mitchell to drop the total to three K’s needed to break former Texas hurler Osterman’s national strikeout mark.
Schutzler granted the Lady Vols some potential offensive life in the top of the fourth by drawing a lead-off walk against LSU senior hurler Emily Turner. After an infield pop-up to short by junior first baseman Tonya Callahan, freshman designated player Tiffany Huff dropped a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance the runner into scoring position with two down. Unfortunately for the Big Orange, a routine groundout to third off the bat of junior catcher Shannon Doepking ended the scoring chance with no damage.
For the second consecutive inning Tennessee got its lead-off hitter aboard as Turner struck UT freshman right fielder Erinn Webb with a pitch. Co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly summoned sophomore Danielle Pieroni off the bench to pinch hit and she came through with a walk to place runners at first and second with no one retired. Horiuchi was asked to lay down the sacrifice bunt, and she performed her job perfectly on the first pitch to advance Webb and pinch runner Lillian Hammond into scoring position. UT’s top hitter Chiles stepped into the box and got ahead of Turner 3-0, before the LSU hurler rebounded to bring the count full at 3-2. On the pay-off pitch, Chiles flied out to left center, but the sphere was deep enough to bring Webb across home plate via sacrifice fly to cut the Lady Vol deficit to 3-1. Freshman pinch hitter Alexia Clay looked at strike three to leave Hammond stranded at second and complete the scoring threat.
Following a tremendous diving defensive play by Posey on a pop-up into short right center by Jackson to begin the bottom of the fifth, Soto became the fifth strikeout victim of the game for Abbott. With the punch out of the LSU first baseman at 2:33 p.m. CT, Tennessee’s three-time All-American hurler equaled Osterman’s NCAA Division I strikeout mark at 2,265. Stein grounded out easily to Posey at second base to retire the side.
Callahan got UT’s offense started in the top of the sixth by bouncing a single into the hole between third and short. Huff drove a ball to center, but Klein easily tracked it down to keep freshman pinch runner Nicole Kajitani standing at first with two down. That brought the recently clutch Doepking to the dish with yet another chance to be the heroine. The Acton, Calif., native nearly came through again by blasting a ball to deep left, but Jackson managed to corral the sphere on the warning track to maintain the 3-1 score.
LSU’s Klein led off the bottom of the sixth with a single deep into the hole at short. Following a popped up sacrifice attempt by Mitchell, Roessner grounded a shot towards that middle that Horiuchi nabbed on the full run. The Wahiawa, Hawaii, native stepped on second and threw on to first for a double play to bring up Tennessee’s offense for its last opportunity in regulation.
With one retired in the top of the seventh, Griffin drew a free pass against Turner. The Weeklys’ sent freshman Anita Manuma to the plate and the Ewa Beach, Hawaii, product came through in the clutch by driving a two-bagger to the wall in right center to bring Griffin all the way around and cut the deficit to 3-2 with one down. That signaled the end of the day for LSU’s Turner as head coach Yvette Girouard made the call to the bullpen to summon in Saturday’s 2-1 losing pitcher sophomore Dani Hofer. The new hurler managed to induce a grounder back to the circle by Chiles to bring Posey up as UT’s last chance. The junior from Los Angeles, Calif., battled to a 2-2 count but popped out to second base to end the rally and leave the tying run stranded just 60 feet from paydirt.
The No. 1 Lady Vols will conclude their regular-season over May 5-6 with a three-game home series against No. 2 Alabama at Tyson Park. Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com, and periodic updates will be provided to the Lady Vol Hotline at 865-974-8700 (box #6). The series opener (1 p.m. ET on Saturday) will be broadcast live on ESPN2, with the finale (Sunday at 1 p.m. ET) shown on ESPN.