TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The #5 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (46-10) saw its season-best 19-game winning streak come to an end on Friday afternoon in a tough 2-1 (8 inn.) loss to #7 Florida (46-10) during the semifinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at Rhoads Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The Big Orange now waits to learn its path in the upcoming NCAA Tournament on Sun., May 13, as ESPNU will broadcast the “NCAA Selection Show” at 10 p.m. ET.
Junior third baseman Raven Chavanne led the Lady Vol offense, going 1-for-3 at the plate with a walk and a run scored while stretching her streak of games reaching base safely by hit, walk or hit by pitch to a career-best 35 straight contests.
In the circle junior pitcher Ivy Renfroe (19-7) sustained her first loss since March 21, allowing just one earned run on six hits with two walks and four strikeouts over 7.1 frames of effort. Sophomore Ellen Renfroe worked a perfect two-thirds of a frame in relief during the top of the eighth inning.
“First, I’d like to thank the SEC and the University of Alabama for a tremendous tournament,” Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. “This thing was run absolutely perfect. It couldn’t have been better, except if we had been playing tomorrow night. Second, I’m really proud of our kids. We went out and fought hard. Lately, we just seem to have those late-inning things against the University of Florida. Florida is most deserving, and I have to give them credit. I’m not happy that we’re not playing tomorrow, but these kids laid it on the line, and that’s all a coach could ask for.”
Florida’s offense wasted zero time getting started in the top of the first as third baseman Sami Fagan christened the match-up with a perfect slap single to shallow left. After a sacrifice bunt attempt went awry for shortstop Cheyenne Coyle via a pop-up, center fielder Michelle Moultrie drew a walk to place a pair aboard. First baseman Lauren Haeger hit a slow bouncer that was corralled by UT junior second baseman Lauren Gibson. The Pasadena, Md., native managed a tag of her counterpart on the U.S. National Team before tossing on to freshman Cheyanne Tarango at first for a crucial, inning-ending double play.
With the Gators scoring opportunity having gone for naught in the top half, the Lady Vols managed to strike pay dirt during the bottom of the first. Chavanne made it 35 consecutive games reaching safely via hit, walk or hit by pitch, christening the frame with a slap base knock through the infield. The Thousand Oaks, Calif., native wasted no time advancing into scoring position, swiping her team-best 29th base of the campaign. That proved an important play with one out as sophomore shortstop Madison Shipman hit a hard grounder to second base that was booted by UF’s Katie Medina. With the ball having escaped into right field, Chavanne scored easily from second to grant Tennessee a 1-0 lead. The Big Orange entered the day with a 39-6 overall record when plating the initial tally of a contest.
Sami Fagan’s second hit of the match-up, this one with two down in the top of the third, got the tying rally started for the Gators. A passed ball behind the plate on an Ivy Renfroe offering allowed the UF base runner to move to second where she was soon plated via a single up the middle by Coyle, dead-locking the score at 1-1.
Tennessee almost answered back in the bottom of the third as walks to senior catcher Ashley Andrews and Chavanne put a pair on the base paths with only one out. Junior right fielder Kat Dotson stepped into the batter’s box and laced a single just on the grass in the outfield. Florida center fielder Moultrie corralled the ball and fired a strike to the plate as catcher Kelsey Horton made the tag to save a run. A routine grounder to short off the bat of Shipman finished off what was once a promising Lady Vol threat with no damage done.
The NCAA Division I-leading Big Orange defense made itself known to those in attendance and watching on ESPNU by making a pair of stellar plays during the top of the fourth. Florida’s Haeger started off the inning with a chopper that ventured deep into the hole at short. Shipman raced over to make the grab and fired a rocket across the diamond to Tarango for the initial out. Horton followed with a shot to third that Chavanne dove to her left to nab, before tossing from her knees across the diamond to complete back-to-back “web gems.”
After Tarango was struck by a Hannah Rogers pitch opening the bottom of the fifth, freshman pinch runner Hannah Trainer was eventually stranded just 60 feet from pay dirt. A sac bunt and a groundout advanced the Brentwood, Tenn., native to third. Unfortunately, Chavanne suffered from serious bad luck as her sharp liner back to the circle was snagged by Rogers to conclude the frame.
With Florida’s Sami Fagan stationed at second following her third single of the contest and a steal in the top of the sixth, a one-out defensive gem by Dotson saved the dead-lock. Moultrie ripped a shot into the right center gap that was tracked down on a terrific running, back-handed grab by the Savannah, Ga., native as Fagan was forced to retreat to second. Haeger hit a bouncer up the middle that Shipman raced over in front of second base to corral before launching another strike to first to wrap-up the UF threat.
UT’s Burchell nearly ended the contest via walk-off starting the bottom of the seventh, blasting a drive to deep right that was caught on the warning track by Florida’s Kasey Fagan. A one-out single from junior pitcher hitter Melissa Brown went for naught as a ground out and a pop-up to third left the Valencia, Calif., product standing on second.
The Gators finally broke the dead-lock in the top of the eighth as pinch hitter Bailey Castro battled out of a 0-2 hole to a full count before launching a solo HR to left center, giving UF its first lead of the afternoon at 2-1. A double down the left field line from Sami Fagan and a walk to Coyle ended Ivy Renfroe’s stint in the circle as sister Ellen entered in relief The Jackson, Tenn., native immediately wrapped up the inning, inducing a routine fly ball to center off the bat of Moultrie.
Haeger entered in a save situation for the Gators starting the bottom of the eighth and managed a big initial out as Chavanne chopped a ball to short and was retired at first by a step. From there Dotson popped up on the infield and Shipman bounced out routinely to short, finishing off UF’s extra-inning victory.