OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – On a cool 69-degree Friday night in front of the second largest session attendance in Women’s College World Series history (7,744 fans) at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, No. 1 Tennessee (61-6) scratched out a run in the bottom of the sixth to back a complete game shutout by senior pitcher Monica Abbott as the Lady Vols downed No. 4 Arizona, 1-0, to improve to 2-0 and move within one victory of making the best-of-three WCWS Championship Series. UT has now won three of its last four games against the Wildcats (all by 1-0 scores in Oklahoma City) and nine of its last 11 games versus the powerful Pac-10 Conference.
Due to a lengthy rain delay, tonight’s match-up against the Wildcats started at 11:23 p.m. CT, two minutes later than last year’s late nighter against #1 UCLA and three hours and 23 minutes after the originally scheduled start time of 8 p.m. CT. By finishing at 1:28 a.m. CT, the contest marked the second latest foray into the night for the Lady Vols in its three-year history at the WCWS. In 2005 Tennessee’s 11-inning marathon win over No. 1 Michigan ended at 1:21 a.m. CT, while a 2006 triumph over No. 1 UCLA concluded at 2:01 a.m. CT. UT is now 3-0 in its late night affairs at the Women’s College World Series.
The Big Orange have earned a well-deserved off-day on Saturday to rest before resuming action on Sunday, June 3, against either Northwestern (1-1), Texas A&M (0-1) or Baylor (0-1) at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN HD. The latter two squads will contest an elimination game on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET, before advancing on to face Northwestern at 9 p.m. ET for the berth opposite the Lady Vols in the semifinals. Whichever team advances to face UT would be forced to defeat Tennessee twice on Sunday to reach the championship series.
Senior Monica Abbott permitted six hits against a rugged Arizona (45-13-1) line-up and walked three, but countered that by striking out 16 hitters while managing to escape two bases-loaded jams in recording her 27th solo shutout of 2007. The Salinas, Calif., native now sits just three K’s from becoming the first pitcher in NCAA history to achieve 2,400 career strikeouts.
The Orange & White offense managed just two hits, both by the incomparable senior India Chiles, but took advantage of a crucial fielding error on the Wildcats in the bottom of the sixth to plate the game’s lone run.
“Well this is where you want to be, and it really does not matter how you get there,” Lady Vol co-head coach Karen Weekly said. “Arizona is a very tough team and they played a fantastic game. Taryne Mowatt pitched a great, great game. You had two pitchers out there battling, battling and battling, and I can not say enough about Monica Abbott keeping us in the game and getting out of jams and putting us on her back tonight.”
Arizona speedster Caitlin Lowe led off the highly-anticipated contest by barely beating out an infield hit back to the circle. During U of A second baseman Chelsie Mesa’s at-bat, Lowe took off for second but was called out for leaving first base early to wipe the base paths clean. Abbott battled out of a 3-0 hole to strikeout Mesa for retirement number two. Wildcat shortstop Kristie Fox drew a free pass to reach base, but was left stranded right there as third baseman Jenae Leles became Abbott’s second K victim of the inning to retire the side.
Freshman first baseman Tiffany Huff became Tennessee’s first base runner with two down in the bottom of the first frame by reaching on a free pass issued by Arizona hurler Taryne Mowatt. Callahan stepped into the batter’s box and ripped a long drive that easily cleared the wall in deep left. Unfortunately the shot drifted just wide of the foul pole to go down as nothing but an extremely long strike. Mowatt came back immediately with a 2-2 change-up to K the Holden, Mo., native and end the eventful first frame with no scoring.
Tennessee’s 6-3 left hander settled in during the top of the second by striking out the side for the 114th time during her 2007 campaign. Catcher Callista Balko, first baseman Laine Roth and designated player Sam Banister each went down on strikes to up Abbott’s count to five K’s through two innings of work.
After a one-two-three second inning for the Big Orange, Arizona left fielder K’Lee Arredondo singled through the left side of the infield to christen the top of the third for U of A. Right fielder Adrienne Acton went down swinging to record Abbott’s sixth strikeout and mark an important initial retirement of the frame. With a 0-2 count Abbott delivered a ball wide of the plate and, with no one covering second, Arredondo pulled off a delayed steal of second to reach scoring position. Lowe came through with a base knock just over a leaping Posey at second and into right center field to set the situation at runners at the corners with one down. Facing a big-time Wildcat threat, Abbott managed to punch out Mesa for the second time in the match-up. With a bag open, co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly chose to have their hurler intentionally walk the power-hitting Fox to load the bases for Leles. The move paid dividends as UT’s four-time NFCA All-American K’ed Leles swinging at a rise ball to escape a huge jam and leave three Wildcats stranded.
In the top of the fourth, Abbott struck out Balko and Roth to improve her total to 10 K’s through four innings. Tennessee sophomore shortstop Liane Horiuchi made a spectacular play to end the frame by racing over from her defensive position and diving parallel to the infield dirt to corral a little blooper on the fly, out in front of second base, to retire the Wildcats.
The amazing Chiles tried to get the Lady Vol attack started in the bottom of the fourth with a clean single up the middle into center field to register Tennessee’s initial hit of the match-up. Huff attempted to sacrifice bunt the runner over to second but popped the orb up to Mowatt in the circle as the Arizona hurler nabbed the sphere, turned and doubled off Chiles easily at the first base bag. That killed any offensive momentum for the Big Orange as Callahan ended the inning by becoming Mowatt’s sixth strikeout victim.
UA’s Arredondo, Acton and Lowe each swung and missed at strike three in the top of the fifth to go down as strikeout victims 11, 12 and 13 in the contest for Abbott. With those three K’s, the Salinas, Calif., native climbed within six K’s of the 2,400-punch out mark.
Abbott had retired eight in a row with six strikeouts before Fox singled to center field with one out in the top of the sixth. On a perfectly executed hit-and-run play, Leles ripped an offering through the right side of the infield allowing Fox to race all the way to third. The Tennessee coaching staff decided to intentionally walk Balko to load the bases and set up the force situation at every base. UT’s pitcher managed to coax an infield pop-up that Posey squeezed for a very important second out. Teetering on the edge of disaster once again, Abbott struck out Banister to escape the bases-loaded situation for the third time in the WCWS and for the second time in the game against U of A.
Facing a 3-2 count to open the bottom of the sixth, Horiuchi managed to lay-off a tough rise ball from Mowatt to post a huge lead-off walk. Posey attempted to get the sacrifice bunt down, but failed and went down swinging to become the first retirement of the inning. Schutzler coaxed a free pass to place two on with Tennessee’s super-tough Chiles coming to the dish with a chance to re-enact her heroics of Thursday against No. 7 Texas A&M. She came through in the clutch situation by lacing a bouncing single up the middle. Unfortunately for the Orange & White, Arizona’s All-American center fielder Lowe corralled the ball on the run, came up throwing and managed to cut down Horiuchi at the plate to prevent the first run of the game from scoring. With two outs in the frame and runners residing at second and third, Huff grounded a routine ball to second base that Mesa bobbled for an error allowing Schutzler to race home for a 1-0 Lady Vol advantage. Callahan struck out to end the frame, but the fielding miscue brought Tennessee within three outs of moving to a perfect 2-0 in the winner’s bracket at the WCWS for the first time in program history.
Down to their final chance in regulation, Arredondo started off the top of the seventh by becoming Abbott’s 15th strikeout victim of the contest. Acton dropped a slow roller up the third base line that Callahan was forced to rush while attempting to make a play. Her throw drifted wide of the bag, but would have been late anyway as Acton was awarded a single to grant UA a glimmer of hope. Lowe came to the plate with a chance to register a clutch hit but lined out to Horiuchi at short. Acton managed to steal second, but the advance amounted to little as Abbott struck out Mesa swinging to secure the contest and give Tennessee Saturday off to rest.