Monica Abbott led Tennessee to the Women's College World Series finals Sunday, throwing her third straight shutout in the Lady Vols' 3-0 victory over Northwestern.
In the best-of-three championship series beginning Monday night, the Lady Vols (62-6) will face defending champion Arizona, which advanced by beating sixth-seeded Washington twice Sunday by scores of 2-0 and 8-1.
Abbott (49-3), the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year, struck out 17 in a two-hitter to help Tennessee reach the championship series for the first time. The Lady Vols had finished third the past three years.
"It's really awesome because we've come so close the past three years," Abbott said.
Tonya Callahan had an RBI groundout and Tiffany Huff added a sacrifice fly in the first inning as Tennessee took an early 2-0 lead against Eileen Canney (33-11). Northwestern (52-13), last year's runner-up, couldn't mount a rally.
To win the championship, the Wildcats will have to get past Abbott. The hard-throwing lefty threw her 23rd career no-hitter in the opening round and has allowed only eight hits in 21 innings in the World Series. She allowed six hits in a 1-0 win against Arizona earlier in the tournament.
"She's a great pitcher," Arizona outfielder Caitlin Lowe said. "She's going to come at us with the same gameplan. We just need to make our adjustments before she does."
Abbott and Tennessee also beat Arizona 1-0 at the World Series last year, but the Wildcats came back to beat the Lady Vols 6-0 to advance to the finals of the double-elimination tournament.
"I think there's a difference from past seasons to now," Tennessee co-coach Karen Weekly said of Abbott. "I think it's about developing more pitches and working more up and down in the zone, and I think that's made a big difference. And then I think her mental game is outstanding, her poise on the mound, her confidence, her maturity.
"You can just see the focus in her eyes every game here."
Katie Logan and Tammy Williams each had singles for Northwestern's only baserunners, and the Wildcats never got a runner to second base against Abbott in her latest gem.
Washington starter Danielle Lawrie (31-13) had been as dominant as Abbott, throwing a no-hitter and allowing only two hits in 17 shutout innings at the World Series before top-seeded Arizona (48-13-1) rallied for two runs in the sixth inning of the first game.
Jenae Leles singled and Laine Roth drew a two-out walk before Sam Banister doubled to right center to make it 2-0. Banister also had the game-winning hit in Arizona's 5-4 extra-innings win against Washington (42-19) on May 12.
Later Sunday, Arizona got to Lawrie early with Leles' two-run double in the first inning. She finished with four RBIs and Chelsie Mesa added three hits, drove in two runs and scored three times to lead Arizona's offense.
Taryne Mowatt (39-11) threw a pair of four-hitters, allowing only a two-out RBI single by Lauren Greer that cut Arizona's lead to 3-1 in the fourth inning of the second game.
Leles answered that run with a sacrifice fly in the top of the fifth, and Mesa's two-run double in the sixth made it 6-1. Kristie Fox added a sacrifice fly before Leles capped the scoring with an RBI single.
"I hope every one of these kids has grown mentally, and I think at this stage of the game that's what counts," Arizona coach Mike Candrea said. "It becomes a mental war."
Story Courtesy: UT Lady Vols Sports Information