OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Thursday evening at the Women’s College World Series marked another record-setting night for the No. 1 Tennessee softball team (60-6) as UT outlasted No. 7 Texas A&M (46-13), 2-0, to advance on in the winner’s bracket. Lady Vol senior pitcher Monica Abbott (47-3) struck out 16 to break the NCAA single-season strikeout record (665 K’s) and threw her third career postseason and 23rd overall no-hitter. Even with all that, the story of the game proved to be injured senior India Chiles singling in the eventual game-winning run during a crucial seventh-inning rally.
The Big Orange also broke the WCWS single-game record for stolen bases by swiping five in the match-up with two steals each by senior center fielder Lindsay Schutzler and junior second baseman Kenora Posey and one from freshman left fielder Erinn Webb. Tennessee reached the 60-win plateau for the third consecutive season after posting 67-15 and 61-12 records in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
Despite dealing with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee, Chiles knocked in the game-winning score during the top of the seventh with a little flare to short left field for her only hit in four at-bats. Junior catcher Shannon Doepking provided the Big Orange some insurance with an RBI single in the seventh as part of a 2-for-4 performance. Freshman right fielder Anita Manuma and Schutzler each posted a 2-for-4 effort at the dish as a portion of UT’s 11-hit assault.
Abbott won her 47th game of the campaign by striking out 16 Aggie hitters during her NCAA record 109th career shutout. Now boasting 665 career K’s, she has broken the NCAA single-season record of 663 strikeouts set by former Southern Miss hurler Courtney Blades in 2000.
“I thought this was a really hard-fought game,” Lady Vol co-head coach Karen Weekly said. “This was a game where both teams wanted it really bad. Texas A&M was a tough, tough opponent. Amanda Scarborough was more than we wanted, and I thought she was really outstanding. We said in our post game afterwards that it was just a matter of one team blinking first, and hopefully it wouldn’t be us. I was proud of the way our kids battled and the way Monica (Abbott) settled down after those first couple of innings and worked her way through tough situations. We kept fighting, and that is what we kept talking about in the dugout, was to keep battling, battle every pitch and put the ball in play.”
After a quiet top of the first for the Lady Vols, Abbott permitted a four-pitch lead-off walk to speedy Texas A&M center fielder Sharonda McDonald, and her school record 163 stolen bases, to christen the bottom half. Third baseman Jamie Hinshaw worked the count to 3-2 against the 6-3 hurler before also drawing a free pass to place two Aggies on base with none retired. First baseman Megan Gibson worked the count full, as UT’s pitcher was struggling mightily to find the strike zone, before she was retired swinging for the first out. Aggie pitcher Amanda Scarborough became the third player to walk in the opening frame to load the bases. Keep this in mind, Abbott entered Thursday’s contest having walked three batters in a game just four times in 2007. Left fielder Jami Lobpries hit a ground ball back to the circle that Abbott corralled before throwing to home for the force for a vital out number two. Designated player Alex Reynolds fell behind 0-2, rallied to 2-2 and then went down swinging as Tennessee and Abbott escaped a huge first inning jam with no damage. Unofficially, Abbott threw 30 pitches in the first inning with 20 balls and 10 strikes.
With one down in the top of the second, Doepking became the Lady Vols’ initial base runner by ripping a hard single up the middle off Scarborough. Following a K by freshman Erinn Webb for the second out of the frame, Manuma came through with a base knock to short center field to advance Doepking up 60 feet into scoring position. Shortstop Liane Horiuchi fell behind 0-2 before being hit on the knee by a Scarborough pitch. The Wahiawa, Hawaii, native was summoned back to the plate, however, because the home plate umpire believed she didn’t make enough of an effort to get out of the way of the sphere. When Horiuchi stepped back into the batter’s box, she struck out to retire the side and strand two on the base paths.
Texas A&M shortstop Macie Morrow got ahead of Abbott 3-1 to begin the bottom of the second, but the Salinas, Calif., native rebounded to punch her out. That seemed to settle down the four-time All-American pitcher as she roared through second baseman Joy Davis and right fielder Lisa Gorzycki to strike out the side for the 112th time this year and up her game count to five K’s through two innings of work.
Posey was hit on a 0-1 pitch from Scarborough to lead-off the top of the third to grant UT a speedy base runner. On the first offering to Schutzler, Posey took off for second and easily swiped her 26th plate in 29 attempts. Schutzler fought to 3-2 against Scarborough and then fouled off several pitches before lacing a bouncer up the middle to place runners at first and third with still none retired. That brought Chiles to the plate, as the Louisville, Ky., product started today’s match-up with the doctor’s blessing despite the torn ACL in her right knee. Schutzler stole second to reach scoring position, but Chiles went down swinging for the first out of the inning. Huff K’ed and then junior third baseman Tonya Callahan walked to load the bases for Doepking. The Acton, Calif., native swung at the first pitch and grounded harmlessly to second to make it five base runners stranded for the Big Orange through three frames.
Suddenly dominant once again after a difficult start to the WCWS opening contest, Abbott punched out McDonald, forced Hinshaw to ground out routinely to short and then K’ed Gibson to make it seven strikeouts through three complete.
The pitcher’s duel continued through the fourth inning as Texas A&M’s Scarborough struck out the UT side with Webb, Manuma and Horiuchi all being retired on strikes. Scarborough walked to open the bottom of the fourth for the Aggies, eventually moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, but became A&M’s fourth stranded base runner as shortstop Macie Morrow went down swinging to register Abbott’s ninth strikeout.
Schutzler ripped her second hit of the day into right field with one down in the top of the fifth. The Monterey, Calif., native immediately took off for second and stole her 39th bag of the year and second of the contest to reach scoring position. Unfortunately for the Big Orange, she was left right there as Chiles and Huff were K’ed to grant Scarborough 11 strikeouts through five innings.
Abbott answered in the bottom of the fifth by striking out Davis, Gorzycki and MacDonald to make it 12 K’s for the game and climb within two punch outs of tying Blades for the NCAA Division I single-season record (663 K’s).
In the top of the sixth, Webb singled into right field with two down and swiped second base to improve to 4-for-4 on steals in 2007. Manuma bounced a ball up the third base line that looked as if it would kick foul. A charging Morrow at third attempted and failed to make the grab permitting the Ewa Beach, Hawaii, native to reach via single with Webb racing into third. Freshman pinch hitter Alexia Clay was brought in to face Scarborough and grounded sharply back to the circle. A&M’s hurler handled the play easily but threw low to first base forcing Gibson to dig the throw out of the dirt to retire the side and prevent Tennessee from scoring the match-up’s first tally.
Entering the seventh inning with the game still scoreless, Posey grounded a ball about 10 feet up the third base line for an important lead-off base hit. The Los Angeles, Calif., native swiped second to record the fifth team steal of the contest establishing a new single-game WCWS record. A important groundout by Schutzler to the right side of the infield moved the runner up 60 feet to third and brought Chiles to the plate in the crucial situation. Playing despite the torn ACL, she came through with a two-strike single into short left field that dropped near the line to score Posey for a 1-0 lead. Huff and Callahan followed with base hits to load the bags with one down as the Lady Vols finally began to get to Scarborough. Easily Tennessee’s most clutch hitter throughout this year, Doepking stepped in with the bags juiced and ripped a base knock into left center field to plate another tally as the Lady Vols nabbed a 2-0 advantage. Webb lined a ball that third baseman Hinshaw managed to just corral on the fly as it traveled over her head for out number two. Manuma struck out swinging to end the frame, but not before UT had tallied two runs on five hits.
Pitching with the lead for the first time all evening, Abbott gave Texas A&M no chance to rally in the bottom of the seventh by forcing Lobpries to pop out to second base before striking out both Reynolds and Morrow to end the game.