KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Down to its final three outs and trailing 4-3 on the scoreboard, No. 11 Tennessee (27-5, 5-3 Southeastern Conference) received a vital lead-off double to open the bottom of the seventh from junior designated player Jessica Spigner and clutch, two-out RBI singles from freshman pinch hitter Melissa Davin and sophomore third baseman Raven Chavanne to complete a stirring comeback and top South Carolina (17-15, 3-10 SEC), 5-4, in front of 910 fans on Sunday at Lee Softball Stadium.
UT had trailed 4-0 following the top of the first after a S.C. grand slam, but chipped away at its deficit all game long. Tennessee plated single runs during the first, third and sixth frames before the two-run seventh completed a three-game series sweep of the Gamecocks.
"This was a great team effort all the way," Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. "The lead-off double by Jessica Spigner to begin the seventh was extremely crucial to our comeback. Melissa Davin was called on to pinch hit with two outs and came through with a huge clutch hit. It was great to see two of our freshmen come through in high-pressure situations this weekend after Chelsea O'Connor hit an eighth-inning, walk-off homer on Friday night."
Chavanne (2-for-4, RBI), senior center fielder Kelly Grieve (2-for-4, two doubles, RBI) and Spigner (2-for-4, team-best 10th double of 2011) each registered two of Tennessee's 11 total hits in the match-up. Sophomore second baseman Lauren Gibson (1-for-3, HR), junior first baseman Shelby Burchell (1-for-4) and Davin (1-for-1) each contributed single RBIs in the victory, with Gibson's coming via her second HR of the season. Junior catcher Ashley Andrews (1-for-2, two runs, two walks) registered the winning tally and also managed a crucial two-out walk in the bottom of the seventh that made Davin and Chavanne's heroics possible.
UT sophomore pitcher Ivy Renfroe (9-2) picked up her ninth win of the campaign, allowing just a single hit, walking one and striking out one over three innings of relief. Freshman Ellen Renfroe permitted one earned score on six hits over 3.2 frames, while junior starter Cat Hosfield allowed three runs on a hit and walked two during her stint in the circle.
South Carolina wasted little time jumping in front on the scoreboard by striking for four runs during the top of the first. A lead-off walk from first baseman Laura Mendes, a one-out single through the left side of the infield from second baseman Dana Hathorn and a free pass drawn by left fielder Kaitlin Westfall quickly packed the bags full of Gamecocks. Ellen Renfroe relieved Hosfield and on her very first pitch in relief watched as right fielder Hannah Milks drilled a grand slam directly over the top of the left field fair pole for a stunning 4-0 lead.
The Big Orange began its comeback immediately in the bottom of the first. Grieve kicked things off with a one-out double, one of her pair of two-baggers in the contest, and eventually scored on a two-out single from Gibson to make it 4-1, S.C.
The Lady Vol defense made its presence felt in the top of the second. A rocket to third off the glove of a diving Chavanne by Evan Childs bounced directly over to freshman shortstop Madison Shipman. Forced to work quickly, the Valencia, Calif., native unleashed a throw to Burchell at first that managed to nail the runner by mere inches for a big first out. Mendes singled on the infield to grant the Gamecocks a base occupant, but she was soon retired as Gibson dove fully extended towards second to corral a bouncer up the middle by shortstop Samie Garcia. Gibson got to her knees quickly enough to toss to Shipman covering at second for the fielder's choice. Hathorn then flew out harmlessly to freshman Chelsea O'Connor in left as no damage was done on the scoreboard.
South Carolina again threatened during the top of the third as both Milks and catcher P.J. Fulmer delivered one-out base hits. Center fielder Lauren Lackey laced a shot into the hole at short, but Shipman raced to her right, corralled the sphere on a bounce and managed to outrun Milks to third for a huge putout. Designated player Kandyce Redondo stepped to the dish and ripped a shot right back to the circle that Ellen Renfroe nabbed on a high hop. The Jackson, Tenn., native turned and fired to Burchell to end another threat.
A lead-off home run off the bat of Gibson opening the bottom of the fourth, the Pasadena, Md., native's second big fly of the campaign, cut the Big Orange deficit to 4-2.
Two more walks issued by UT in the top of the fourth might have spelled trouble if not for an impressive throw to second from Andrews to catch pinch runner Jackie Slawson stealing. With a Gamecock runner standing at first base and two down in the frame, Ellen Renfroe battled Hathorn over a 12-pitch at-bat before coercing a routine bouncer to short to end the frame.
A lead-off base knock by Westfall christening the top of the fifth ended Ellen Renfroe's stint in the circle as her sister Ivy was summoned in to relieve. Following a sacrifice bunt that advanced the South Carolina runner into scoring position, the 6-0 right hander got Fulmer to fly out to Grieve in center and then caught pinch hitter Julie Sarratt looking at strike three to leave the occupant stranded.
Tennessee clawed back within a single tally during the bottom of the sixth as Grieve followed a one-out Andrews base knock and a Chavanne walk with her second double of the contest.
With one last opportunity to extend the game or perhaps end it in the bottom of the seventh, the Lady Vols managed the latter by plating a pair of two-out runs. Spigner started the stirring rally with a vital double into the gap on a 3-2 pitch from South Carolina's Audrey Broyles. After two quick outs, including a long drive into foul territory by sophomore Melissa Brown that allowed sophomore pinch runner Morgan Fowler the chance to advance to third, Andrews stepped to the plate in a big spot and managed a walk on four straight pitches. Out of the dugout popped Davin to face the most intense situation of her brief collegiate career. If the Fresno, Calif., product was nervous she didn't show it, roping a 1-1 pitch just over the glove of South Carolina's leaping Hathorn as Fowler easily scored the tying run from 60 feet away. With runners stationed at first and second, Chavanne stepped to the plate and lifted a shot into the outfield that dropped in as Andrews rounded third and crossed the dish to set off another Big Orange celebration.
The Big Orange returns to action on Tuesday, March 29, in Clarksville, Tenn., for a single contest at 6 p.m. ET versus Austin Peay. Check both http://twitter.com/LadyVol_Sftball and http://twitter.com/LadyVol_Sports for the most up-to-date information on Tennessee softball.
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