KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee’s offense did a pretty good impression of their offensively-lauded counterparts from Hawai’i (49-12) under the lights on Friday night at Tyson Park as the No. 1 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (58-5) scored a commanding, 9-0 (5 inn.), victory over the Rainbow Wahine to take early control of the two squads’ best-of-three NCAA Super Regional. The duo will complete the series on Saturday with contests at 4 & (if necessary) 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPNU and The Sports Animal. Senior pitcher Monica Abbott struck out 10 in carding her 22nd career no-hitter.
“My hat’s off to our team. We challenged our players all week. We told our players what kind of powerhouse Hawaii was coming in here with. They worked hard, prepared, and tonight’s a good night for the Lady Vols. But the tournament’s certainly not over,” Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “All the credit there goes to (assistant coach) Marty McDaniel, (co-head coach) Karen Weekly and our pitching staff. Karen spent probably 40 hours this week studying Hawaii’s game film. They sat down with the pitchers and Marty and studied it, and we had a pretty good idea where to throw the ball and where not to throw the ball. I believed Hawaii was very good coming in, I still believe they’re very good, and I think that we’re going to battle ‘til it’s over. You have to respect your opponent. And if you come out with any kind of cockiness at all, you’re going to be in trouble. And that’s not our style. Our style is, ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick. Hawaiians are very giving people. They’re warriors, and they’ll be back to fight, but they’re good people too.”
Freshman first baseman Tiffany Huff did the major damage against UH by registering a 2-for-3 night with a career-high five RBI, while junior third baseman Tonya Callahan was a perfect 3-for-3 with two RBI and two doubles. Playing in place of injured Southeastern Conference Player of the Year India Chiles, sophomore Lillian Hammond did a fine job of creating chaos on the basepaths with a 1-for-2 effort at the plate, an RBI, three runs scored, a walk and a pair of steals. Junior second baseman Kenora Posey also tallied a hit while scoring twice in the match-up.
Abbott struck out 10 in the five-inning complete game shutout. Her 639 K’s on the campaign are well above the Salinas, Calif., native’s season-high of 603 established in 2005. Abbott now sits just 24 K’s from equaling the NCAA single-season record held by former Southern Miss hurler Courtney Blades (set in 2000).
UT’s three-time All-American hurler exerted her dominance immediately on Hawai’i’s potent offense in the top of the first by striking out Rainbow Wahine right fielder Tanisha Milca, third baseman Clare Warwick and center fielder Kaulana Gould in order.
Hawai’i’s pitcher Justine Smethurst opened UT’s half of the first by striking out senior center fielder Lindsay Schutzler. Hammond battled through a 13-pitch at-bat before fighting out of a 0-2 hole to draw a walk. On the first pitch to Huff, Hammond took off for second and swiped her 12th base of the season to reach scoring position. Huff went down on strikes bringing the power-hitting Callahan to the plate with a chance to get the Big Orange on the scoreboard first. The Holden, Mo., native came through with the clutch two-out RBI by hammering a shot to the wall in right center to score Hammond for a 1-0 lead. Junior catcher Shannon Doepking grounded a ball to third that went right between the legs of UH’s Clare Warwick for an error to place runners at second and third with two down. Freshman designated player Alexia Clay ripped an offering back up the middle but the liner traveled right into Smethurst’s glove to retire the side.
A lead-off walk to Rainbow Wahine catcher Tyleen Tausaga in the top of the second didn’t come back to haunt Abbott. First baseman Kate Robinson K’ed, left fielder Brandi Peiler grounded into a fielder’s choice that cut down the lead runner at second on a beautiful play by junior Kenora Posey and shortstop Valana Manuma (Anita Manuma’s sister) also struck out to up the 6-3 hurler’s K count to five through two frames.
The Lady Vols christened a one out rally in the bottom of the second as Horiuchi walked, stole second and advanced to third on another error by Warwick at third base as Posey beat the Rainbow Wahine fielder’s eventual throw to first. Schutzler slapped a shot that nearly cleared a leaping Warwick’s glove, but she made the play to first to cut down Schutzler for the second out. Hammond came to the dish and laced a high chopper that UH shortstop Manuma raced in to corral on the run. The speedy Hammond legged out the single allowing Horiuchi to score for a 2-0 advantage. After falling behind 0-2 to Smethurst, Huff drove a shot down the left field line and into the corner for a two-RBI double as Tennessee raced in front 4-0. Callahan made it 5-0 by blooping a single just inside the chalk in left to score Huff all the way from second. A throwing miscue from left field allowed the runner to move to third, but Doepking ended the assault with a pop out to second as UT plated four runs on three hits with the assistance of a walk and two UH errors. Tennessee forced Smethurst to throw a staggering 61 pitches through the opening two frames of work.
After a quiet third frame for both teams and an uneventful top of the fourth for the Rainbow Wahine, the speedy Posey led off the bottom of the fourth with a bunt single to third. Schutzler worked a free pass to join her teammate on the basepaths to bring Hammond to the dish having reached both times she had visited the plate in the contest. The Chattanooga, Tenn., native hit a ball ball back to the circle and Smethurst checked the runners going to both third and second eventually taking too long with the easy play to first as Hammond reached on an ill-fated fielder’s choice to load the bags. Huff ripped a shot deep to the right field that just eluded a reaching Milca for UH as Huff legged out a three-RBI triple to make it 8-0, Tennessee. That signaled the end of Smethurst’s day in the circle as Hawai’i head coach Bob Coolen brought on reliever Jessica Morton. She immediately uncorked a wild pitch to bring Huff across and make it 9-0 with still no one retired. Callahan improved to a perfect 3-for-3 with a double into the right center field gap to keep the offensive attack going. Doepking recorded UT’s initial out of the inning by flying to center as the runner was forced to remain in scoring position. Clay went down looking at strike three to bring up Anita Manuma with a chance to do more scoreboard damage against her home state and sister’s squad. She went down swinging to end the Lady Vol assault but not before UT had added four more tallies on three hits.
All of a sudden down to their last chance to continue the contest via mercy rule if they couldn’t plate two runs, the Rainbow Wahine sent pinch hitter Richie-Anne Titcomb to the box. She went down swinging to record the ninth K for Abbott. Valana Manuma grounded out to third baseman Callahan for the second out, and second baseman Alana Power swung at strike three to complete Abbott’s 22nd career no-hitter and the 6-3 lefty’s second career NCAA Tournament no-hitter (vs. College of Charleston, 2005).
Knoxville Super Regional Schedule
Friday, May 25
8 p.m. Hawaii vs. Tennessee 9-0 (5 inn.) ESPNU
Saturday, May 26
4 p.m. Tennessee vs. Hawaii ESPNU
6:30 p.m. Hawaii vs. Tennessee (if necessary) ESPNU