May 26, 2007
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – No. 1 Tennessee (59-6) is headed back to the Women’s College World Series for the third consecutive year after surviving a tough battle from No. 12 Hawai’i (50-13) to record a 7-1, best-of-three series clinching victory on Saturday evening at Tyson Park. The Lady Vols will now meet national fourth-seed Texas A&M in Oklahoma City, Okla., in WCWS opening round play on Thursday at a time still to be determined.
Freshman right fielder Erinn Webb (1-of-2, two RBI) posted the biggest hit of the game for the Big Orange by ripping a long two-run double in the bottom of the fourth to grant UT a 3-1 advantage. Junior Tonya Callahan continued her amazing hitting in NCAA Tournament action with a 2-for-3, three RBI effort. She has improved her NCAA average to a staggering .632 (12-of-19) to go along with a HR and eight RBI during six total tourney contests. Freshman first baseman Tiffany Huff was 1-for-2 with a run scored and an RBI to raise her NCAA average to .474 with a team-best nine runs-batted-in.
Abbott (46-3) struck out nine while firing her 39th complete-game of the year. By boasting 649 strikeouts on the season, the Salinas, Calif., native now sits a measly 14 K’s from equaling the NCAA single-season record held by former Southern Miss hurler Courtney Blades (set in 2000).
“My heart’s overflowing with Aloha,” Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “We have a lot of friends on the island, and we recruit out there. I think both teams left it all on the field and both had a shot of winning it all this season. With four innings to go and down 1-0, Karen (co-head coach Weekly) and I told the team that there were four innings left to make it to the Women’s College World Series. We couldn’t have asked for a better response. This team went out and got it done.”
Hawai’i nabbed a quick lead against the 6-3 left hander in the top of the second inning as left fielder Brandi Peiler hammered a solo home run to straight-away center field to grant the Rainbow Wahine a 1-0 advantage.
After two consecutive three-up and three-down frames for UT, Lady Vol right fielder Anita Manuma became Tennessee’s initial base runner of the contest by drawing a lead-off walk against UH hurler Courtney Baughman. Horiuchi flied out to left field as Peiler squeezed the sphere to register the first out. A passed ball charged to Hawai’i catcher Kathryn Grimes allowed Manuma to move to second base safely. Posey worked the count to 3-1 before grounding out routinely to second base, permitting the runner to advance within just 60 feet of paydirt. With 26 two-out RBI on the season, Schutzler had the opportunity to bring the contest even, but popped up to short to complete the frame.
UH designated player Kate Robinson christened the top of the fourth by striking out on a 3-2 pitch against Abbott. Peiler chopped a ball to Callahan at third that the Holden, Mo., native corralled on a tough hop before throwing quickly to Huff at first to register the second retirement. Shortstop Julie Franklin battled Abbott but swung and missed at strike three to become the 6-3 left hander’s fifth K victim of the match-up.
With time beginning to run short, Hammond attempted to get a rally started in the bottom of the fourth by beating out a high bouncer to shortstop. Huff dropped a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance the runner up 60 feet into scoring position with Callahan striding to the dish. The red-hot power hitter came through by driving an RBI single back up the middle to score Hammond and tie the game at 1-1. After Doepking flied out to left center for the second out, Clay drilled a base knock over a leaping Clare Warwick at third to place runners at first and second. The rookie right fielder Webb stepped up in a huge clutch spot and came through with a resounding double off the very top of the wall in left to score Callahan and Clay and grant Tennessee its first lead of the entire day at 3-1.
Now facing a two-run deficit, Rainbow Wahine second baseman Alana Power led off the top of the fifth with a clean single into right field. Grimes continued the threat against Abbott with a hard base knock back up the middle to place two on with no outs and the top of the order coming up. Right fielder Tanisha Milca struck out and Warwick popped up to Posey at second for two quick retirements. Center fielder Kaulana Gould grounded a tough bouncer to second that Posey managed to scoop before throwing on to Huff to strand a pair on the base paths.
Having dodged any potential damage from the UH offense in the top of the fifth, Schutzler and freshman left fielder Nicole Kajitani laced consecutive one-out base hits in the bottom half to grant Tennessee a pair on the base paths with one down. Huff came through with a line drive double to right center to bring in Schutzler in for a 4-1 advantage. Kajitani collided with Power during her run from first to third, perhaps preventing her from scoring on the two-bagger. With runners residing at second and third, Callahan grounded a bouncing shot just past the reach of shortstop Julie Franklin to bring both home and improve the count to 6-1 in UT’s favor. Doepking almost beat out a ground ball up the first base line, but was barely retired to record the second out of the frame. Clay followed by delivering a clean single into right field to plate Ryan and improve the situation to 7-1. Webb went down on strikes to finally bring the inning to a close, but not before eight Lady Vols came to the plate as UT rung up four tallies on five hits.
Granted a six-run lead by her offense, Abbott settled in to retire the Rainbow Wahine in order in the top of the sixth. First baseman Tyleen Tausaga and Robinson each grounded out harmlessly. Peiler became Abbott’s seventh strikeout victim of the evening by flailing at a pitch well off the plate as the Big Orange moved within three outs of a third consecutive Women’s College World Series berth.
Horiuchi grounded out to second base and Posey K’ed for two outs in the bottom of the sixth to bring up Schutzler to face Robinson. At 8:27 p.m. ET, the senior became the last Lady Vol ever expected to come to the dish at Tyson Park with the palatial new Sherri Lee Softball Stadium scheduled for completion prior to the 2008 campaign. Schutzler grounded out routinely to first base to bring up the Rainbow Wahine for their final opportunity to extend the game.
Franklin opened the seventh by chopping a ball to Callahan, who corralled the ball and easily threw her out at first. Abbott then ended the contest by striking out Power and Grimes to seal the triumph and send the Lady Vols to their third straight Women’s College World Series.