Lady Vols beat Kentucky in SEC tourney opener

OXFORD, Miss. - The No. 7 Tennessee Lady Vol softball squad (45-10) got a perfect 2-for-2 effort at the plate with two RBIs from sophomore left fielder Raven Chavanne and a 2-for-3 performance with an RBI from senior center fielder Kelly Grieve in holding off a strong challenge from No. 20 Kentucky (36-14), 4-1, on Thurs., May 12, in opening round action at the Southeastern Conference Tournament at the Ole Miss Softball Complex in Oxford, Miss.

SEC Freshman of the Year Ellen Renfroe started the contest in the circle, allowing one earned run on six hits with three walks and three K's in improving to 24-5 overall on the season. Sophomore Ivy Renfroe picked up her third save of the campaign by walking one and striking out three over two hit-free frames of work.

In addition to the offensive exploits of Chavanne and Grieve, freshman shortstop Madison Shipman (2-for-3, double, run) registered two of UT's eight total hits in the match-up, while sophomore right fielder Kat Dotson was 1-for-3 with her team-leading 60th RBI of the season.

""I think both Tennessee and Kentucky are really good teams, and I don't think either one of them played the way they can play," Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. "It was not a real clean game. We made a lot of mistakes. I don't want to speak for Kentucky, but they made some mistakes. I think it is just a matter of still being in the SEC and still playing the same teams day-after-day. We won, we prevailed, and Kentucky fought hard."

Kentucky managed the initial base runner of the contest during the top of the first as shortstop Kara Dill blasted a triple over UT's Dotson in right field that rolled to the wall. Ellen Renfroe responded to the threat by striking out center fielder Meagan Aull and coercing a bouncer to third off the bat of Brittany Cervantes to leave the UK runner stranded just 60 feet from paydirt.

The Big Orange speed game got UT's half of the first off to a quick start as Chavanne walked on four pitches and Grieve bunted for a single, placing two aboard with none retired. Sophomore second baseman Lauren Gibson hit into a fielder's choice that retired Grieve at second, putting occupants at the corners. Following a Lady Vol stolen base, a fly out to left by Spigner and an infield pop-up by Dotson left the duo in scoring position.

After Kentucky went down in order in the second, Big Orange freshman first baseman Melissa Davin christened the bottom of the second with a lead-off single through the left side of the infield. Unfortunately, a potential UT sacrifice bunt was popped up as Davin was hung out to dry and doubled off first. That de-railed the frame as Shipman bounced out routinely to third baseman Cervantes to conclude the frame.

Singles from Kentucky second baseman Emily Jolly and Dill granted the 'Cats a pair of base runners with two down in the top of the third. Aull lifted a shot to left that was tracked down on a great running catch by junior left fielder Shelby Burchell just in foul ground as the left on count total grew to three for UK.

The Lady Vols finally broke the scoreless dead-lock in the bottom of the third. A one-out infield single by Chavanne and her 30th stolen base of the season was cashed in via a RBI single to right center by Grieve as Tennessee nabbed a 1-0 lead. After Gibson was hit by a pitch and Spigner walked to load the bases, Dotson lifted a short pop-up to right that got second baseman Jolly twisted up as the ball fell in behind her for a hit as Grieve crossed to make it 2-0.

Tennessee added two more tallies on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth on two hits with the benefit of a Kentucky miscue. With new UK hurler Rachel Riley in to throw in relief of the starter Bell, Shipman got yet another two-out rally started for the Big Orange with a single ripped back up the middle. A UK fielding error on a ball off the bat of junior catcher Ashley Andrews extended the inning and permitted Lady Vols to set up shop at second and third. Chavanne stepped to the dish and delivered a clutch two-RBI single to center as the Big Orange nabbed a 4-0 advantage.

Back-to-back walks to UK right fielder Alice O'Brien and pinch hitter Lauren Cumbess got a Kentucky threat started in the top of the fifth. Ellen Renfroe got close to escaping the jam by inducing consecutive infield pop-ups by Jolly and Yocke. Unfortunately, Dill laced a RBI single through the right side of the infield to get the Blue & White on the board, cutting their deficit to 4-1. Aull walked to pack the bags with Kentucky's leading HR hitter Cervantes stepping to the dish. She lifted a fly ball to left, and everyone in Orange breathed a sigh of relief, as Chavanne squeezed the orb to leave the bases juiced.

After Tennessee left a runner in scoring position in the bottom of the fifth, Kentucky registered another offensive scoring opportunity in the top of the sixth. Riley got things started with a single to left and eventually pinch runner Macy Allen advanced to third on a base knock by DeMartine and a relay miscue by UT. Ivy Renfroe was summoned into the contest in relief of her sister facing a save situation and responded to the pressure. The Jackson, Tenn., native got O'Brien to pop-up to short, struck out pinch hitter Ellen Weaver and coerced a sharp liner to center by Jolly that Grieve tracked down on the run as UT maintained its three-score lead.

With one final chance to claw back into the contest, Kentucky managed to get the lead-off batter on base as Yocke walked to christen the top of the seventh. Dill went down swinging, Aull bounced out to second and Cervantes K'ed to end the contest, sending Tennessee on to the semifinal round to battle the winner of the match-up between #2-seed Florida and #7-seed Auburn live on Fri., May 13, on ESPNU at 3 p.m. ET.

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