May 19, 2007
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - It was a struggle but No. 1 Tennessee (56-5) advanced on to Sunday's 2 p.m. Knoxville Regional championship game with a 2-0 victory over North Carolina (46-20) on Saturday afternoon at Tyson Park. The Big Orange have now won eight consecutive regional contests dating back to the 2005 campaign.
The victory was costly for the Lady Vols, however, as senior left fielder India Chiles suffered an injury to her right knee while attempting to avoid a tag between first and second base. The original diagnosis performed at the field of an anterior cruciate ligament tear has since been revised to a right knee sprain until further diagnostic testing can be performed by medical staff.
Tennessee senior pitcher Monica Abbott struck out 17 in a complete-game six-hitter to improve to 43-3 on the season and 19-7 all-time in NCAA Tournament action.
Orange & White junior first baseman Tonya Callahan led the offense with a 3-for-3 effort and an RBI, while junior catcher Shannon Doepking delivered a sacrifice fly in the key two-run first inning. Chiles and senior center fielder Lindsay Schutzler each recorded one of UT's five total hits.
"North Carolina is a good team, their pitcher Spaulding was really good," Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "In talking about us not playing well, I'm talking about us not being able to get bunts down, not being able to steal bases, not being able to execute the very basics. That's not like us, and hopefully we'll come back and play more competitively tomorrow. I'd like to give credit to Carolina for taking us out of our game. I don't want it to come across like we played poorly and that was the only reason it was close. North Carolina had to be a big factor in taking us out of our game.
When...India Chiles (left the game), all the air kind of went out of our team. I felt that was a very significant factor. North Carolina found out the same thing about their centerfielder and leadoff hitter a couple of days ago. We both lost really key players. There's a lot of disappointment here."
The first pitch of the contest from Abbott was drilled into the hole at short by UNC's Cassie Palmer for a lead-off single. Tennessee radio broadcaster Mickey Dearstone actually managed to make a "web gem" of his own during center fielder Ashley Oxendine's at-bat as her foul ball cleared the screen behind the plate. He reached up and managed to make a one-handed snag of the sphere with his left hand while continuing his radio call. Meanwhile back on the actual field of play, Abbott rebounded from giving off a lead-off hit to strikeout Oxendine, designated player Casey Testa and right fielder Emily Troup in order to strand the base runner.
The Lady Vol offense wasted no time against Tarheel pitcher Danielle Spaulding as Chiles and Schutzler laced consecutive base hits to lead-off the bottom of the first. Schutzler swiped her 35th base of the campaign to reach scoring position to place runners at second and third with no one out. Power-hitting Callahan surprised everyone by dropping a squeeze bunt out in front of the plate to bring Chiles home and make it 1-0, Tennessee. Huff reached on a fielder's choice as her ground ball back to the circle was thrown to the plate in an attempt to cut down a runner that wasn't in fact racing to the dish. With the bases juiced, Doepking drilled a high shot into left center to record a sacrifice fly that granted Schutzler the opportunity to score for a 2-0 advantage. Entering Saturday's NCAA Regional match-up, the Big Orange were 46-1 in 2007 when registering the contest's initial run and 24-1 when scoring in the opening frame.
Abbott extended her K streak to five in the top of the second as shortstop Anna Evans and first baseman Jennifer Jacobs each went down swinging against the 6-3 lefthander. UNC left fielder Anna Roberts battled to foul off several pitches before dropping a weak ground ball towards shortstop. UT sophomore Liane Horiuchi raced in from her defensive position, corralled the orb and tossed to Callahan at first to just nab the runner and end the inning.
Tennessee's Callahan started off the bottom of the third with a long double that ricocheted off the base of the wall. UT couldn't add to its advantage, however as Huff went down swinging on a rise ball, Doepking flied out to right and Griffin K'ed against North Carolina hurler Spaulding.
UNC's Testa broke up a skein of 10 consecutive hitters retired by Abbott with a one out single into left center in the top of the fourth. The Tarheels again couldn't string together any sort of offensive threat as Troup and Evans struck out swinging to up Abbott's K count to 10 through just four frames of work.
With one out in the bottom of the fifth, Callahan attempted to get another scoring threat going by lacing a long single to the fence in left center. Huff drove a high fly to the warning track in center, but UNC's Oxendine tracked down the ball at the base of the wall to record the second out. Doepking walked to place two aboard, but freshman pinch hitter Anita Manuma went down on strikes to leave the duo stranded on the base paths with Tennessee still up 2-0.
Down to their last opportunity in regulation, North Carolina right fielder Emily Troup got the Tarheels off on the right foot in the top of the seventh by ripping a base knock up the middle. Following a fly out to right by Evans, UNC began a full-fledged threat as Jacobs singled through the right side and Roberts ripped a hit to center to load the bags against Abbott with just one down. Following a lengthy infield meeting at the circle, the Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year re-grouped to strikeout Spaulding and catcher Whitney Gelin to end the contest and send UT on to tomorrow's Knoxville Regional championship game at 2:30 p.m. ET.