OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - The magical run through the 2007 Women's College Women's Series at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla., continued on Monday evening for No. 1 Tennessee (63-6) as the Lady Vols utilized another pitching gem from Monica Abbott, solo home runs by junior Shannon Doepking and freshman Alexia Clay and another clutch RBI single from ever-dependable senior India Chiles to down No. 4 Arizona (48-14-1), 3-0, and take a 1-0 lead in the two squads' best-of-three WCWS Championship Series.
Tennessee has now won 10 of its last 12 match-ups against the powerful Pacific-10 Conference and boasts a 10-4 record all-time in WCWS play. The Big Orange have taken four of the last five meetings against seven-time national champ Arizona with all four victories occurring in Oklahoma City since starting the 2005 WCWS.
Another astonishing accomplishment was achieved by Abbott (50-3) in her fourth consecutive shutout at the WCWS as the Salinas, Calif., native crossed the 700-strikeout plateau for a single season. The USA Softball National Player of the Year continued her outstanding efforts in the circle by striking out eight Wildcats in a four-hit shutout to advance her scoreless skein to 33.2 frames dating back to last weekend's NCAA Super Regional finale versus No. 12 Hawai'i. Abbott now possesses a 4-1 record in five appearances versus U of A with a 0.60 ERA and 48 K's in 35 innings pitched.
Clay set the tone for Tennessee with her solo shot in the second as part of a 2-for-3, RBI, run scored effort in her first WCWS start. Doepking made it 2-0 in the fourth by hammering her sixth big fly of the campaign. In her first pinch hitting at-bat of the season, Chiles, who was not available to start tonight due to the existing anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in her right knee, continued her folk-hero-like story by ripping the first pitch she saw to center in the seventh for an RBI to make it 3-0. "Karen (Weekly), Marty (McDaniel) and I could not be more proud of the kids for their effort tonight," Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "This was a team victory all the way. India Chiles' performance continues to be unbelievable as she plays despite her injury. The thing we all have to remember is that this series is far from over. Arizona is a great team and will be ready to go again tomorrow."
After one of the quickest innings in this year's Women's College World Series as Abbott and Mowatt roared through the entire first frame in less than 10 minutes, Lady Vol freshman designated player Clay drove a huge two-out solo home run to deep left center field in the top of the second for a 1-0 Tennessee advantage. Arizona center fielder Caitlin Lowe drifted back to the wall on Clay's drive, collided with the barrier, and actually got her glove on the ball, but the sphere ricocheted off the back of the webbing and over the fence to record the round-tripper. The HR marked the third consecutive WCWS that a freshman ripped a homer for the Lady Vol offense after Tonya Callahan's 11th inning blast to down No. 1 Michigan (2-0) in 2005 and Jennifer Griffin's two-run shot in the ninth frame of 2006's 3-1 WCWS victory over No. 9 Arizona State. UT entered today's action against Arizona with a 52-1 record when plating the match-up initial tally.
Abbott struck out the Wildcat side in the bottom of the second as third baseman Jenae Leles, catcher Callista Balko and first baseman Laine Roth each went down swinging to push the 6-3 left hander over the previously thought unreachable 700-K mark in a single season with 702 in 2007.
The Lady Vols wasted a lead-off walk in the top of the third as sophomore shortstop Liane Horiuchi had drawn a free pass against U of A pitcher Taryne Mowatt. Arizona answered with a lead-off base runner of its own in the bottom half as designated player Sam Banister ripped a single into left field to christen the Wildcats' third frame. Left fielder K'Lee Arredondo dropped the perfect sacrifice bunt up the third base line to move pinch runner Jill Malina up 60 feet into scoring position. Following a strikeout of right fielder Adrienne Acton for out number two, co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly made the decision to intentionally walk the dangerous Lowe. The move paid dividends as Abbott induced a fly out to center by second baseman Chelsie Mesa to retire the side and leave a pair of Wildcats stranded.
Not often lauded for its long ball propensity, Tennessee struck again in the top of the fourth with one down as Doepking blasted a Mowatt offering deep over the left field wall to register her sixth HR of the campaign and grant the Orange & White a 2-0 lead.
U of A's Leles blooped a one-out single into short right field in the bottom of the fourth that just eluded diving second baseman Kenora Posey. Balko was called on by Arizona coach Mike Candrea to drop the sacrifice bunt, but she popped the orb up to Callahan just inside the foul line at first for an important out number two. Roth went down swinging to become Abbott's sixth K victim through four complete.
Following a quiet one-two-three fifth frame for both squads, freshman right fielder Tiffany Huff delivered a one-out base knock into right field in the top of the sixth. Callahan hit into a 6-4 fielder's choice that cut down the lead runner at second. Doepking came to the dish for the first time following her long HR, but went down swinging to leave UT's third base runner stranded.
UT's Abbott had retired seven Arizona hitters in a row until shortstop Kristie Fox ended that streak with a clean single that dropped in front of Schutzler in center field with two down in the bottom of the sixth. Tennessee's four-time All-American pitcher induced a pop-up off the bat of Leles that she squeezed herself just outside the circle to conclude the frame and push the Lady Vols within three outs of a 1-0 championship series lead.
Clay continued to make the most of her first starting opportunity in WCWS play with a base knock deep into the hole at short to christen the top of the seventh. New left fielder freshman Erinn Webb dropped a perfect sacrifice bunt back to the circle to advance junior pinch runner Caitlin Ryan into scoring position at second. Griffin drew a free pass off Mowatt to place two on with one down for sophomore pinch hitter Danielle Pieroni. The Madison, Tenn., native checked her swing but K'ed for the second out. Schutzler also singled deep into the hole at short to load the bases for incomparable senior India Chiles. The Louisville, Ky., native's staggering performance at the WCWS continued as she lifted the first pitch she received from Mowatt into short center field for an RBI to score Ryan for a 3-0 lead. Huff went down swinging with the bases juiced but not before Chiles had provided UT with some vital insurance.
Down to their last three outs, Arizona head coach Candrea went to the bench and summoned in pinch hitter Cyndi Duran to lead-off the bottom of the seventh. Duran battled but became Abbott K victim number eight of the contest. Another pinch hitter, Sarah Akamine, grounded out harmlessly to Griffin at third for the second retirement. That left it to Banister who had singled off Abbott back in the third frame. The U of A designated player made it 2-of-3 on the night with a small blooper over Horiuchi's head and into short left center field to give the Wildcats a gasp of offensive life. Arredondo flied out to center field, however, to end the contest and grant Tennessee a 1-0 series advantage in the best-of-three event.