LEXINGTON, Ky. - A five-run bottom of the sixth proved enough on a cold Friday evening at the UK Softball Stadium in Lexington, Ky., to lead No. 23 Kentucky (15-3, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) past No. 7 Tennessee (19-3, 0-1 SEC), 9-6, in a wild 2011 league opener for both teams.
The Big Orange was guided offensively by sophomore right fielder and Savannah, Ga., native Kat Dotson. The reigning SEC Player of the Week continued her torrid hitting by going a perfect 2-for-2 at the plate with a triple, her seventh HR of the season, two runs scored, two steals and two RBIs to raise her season batting average to a staggering .532 overall and grant her a team-best 36 RBIs. Dotson has now reached base in six consecutive plate appearances and homered for the fourth consecutive game.
UT senior center fielder Kelly Grieve (1-for-4) doubled in a run (her fourth two-bagger of the year) and later scored, junior first baseman Shelby Burchell (1-for-4) knocked in a tally via an RBI single and sophomore second baseman Lauren Gibson went 1-for-3 with her first triple of the campaign and an RBI.
Tennessee sophomore hurler Ivy Renfroe suffered the loss in relief to drop to 5-2 after allowing three runs on six hits over 2.2 innings of work. Lady Vol freshman starting pitcher Ellen Renfroe permitted three runs on just one hit, while walking five and registering a strikeout in 2.1 frames. Junior reliever Cat Hosfield allowed a trio of tallies, just one earned, on four hits during a single inning of effort in the circle.
The offensive fireworks threatened to start immediately during the first frame as both teams left base runners stranded.
Three consecutive walks issued by Ellen Renfroe to begin UK's initial turn at-bat created a dangerous situation with no outs, but the 6-0 right hander managed a deft escape from the jam. On a ball in the dirt, UT junior catcher Ashley Andrews raced after the sphere that had bounced out to her left and managed to get back in time to tag out Kentucky's Megan Yocke at the plate for a big first retirement. Center fielder Meagan Aull lifted a fly to left that freshman Chelsea O'Connor caught before firing home to keep a UK runner at third. A bouncer to second off the bat of designated player Lauren Cumbess got UT free of the situation as the game remained scoreless.
Another lead-off walk issued by Ellen Renfroe, this one opening the bottom of the second, came back to haunt Tennessee as right fielder Alice O'Brien launched a two-run shot to center to make it 2-0, `Cats.
The Big Orange fought right back, however, in the top of the third, putting up four two-out runs on the benefit of three hits. With two retired in the frame, sophomore designated player Raven Chavanne was walked on four consecutive pitches by Kentucky starter Chanda Bell. Grieve quickly followed by blasting an RBI double as Chavanne scored easily from first to cut the UT deficit to 2-1. After Dotson was struck by a pitch and the Lady Vol speed game manufactured the game's tying run, Burchell and Gibson managed an RBI single and an RBI triple, respectively, just inside the chalk to plate two more and give Tennessee a 4-2 advantage.
As was the story all contest long, the Wildcats battled right back themselves in the bottom of the third. A one-out walk by third baseman Brittany Cervantes ended Ellen Renfroe's stay in the circle as her sister Ivy was summoned into the contest. Aull immediately managed a bunt single, placing a pair aboard. Cumbess knocked in a tally on a single through the left side of the infield, while an RBI bouncer to second by Samantha DeMartine knotted the count at 4-4.
After Ivy Renfroe retired the `Cats in order during the bottom of the fourth, UT managed to nab a brief lead in the fifth. To christen the frame Chavanne reached safely via a UK fielding error on a dropped throw at first and scampered into scoring position. With one out Dotson blasted a triple off the outfield wall, plating her teammate for a 5-4 advantage. Burchell lifted a promising liner to the outfield but it proved not to be deep enough to score Dotson on a sac fly. She was eventually stranded 60 feet from pay dirt on a Lady Vol K.
A strong throw from right field to the plate by Dotson kept the Wildcats from drawing even in the bottom of the fifth as Aull was gunned down to end a threat.
O'Brien's second HR of the game brought UK even to lead-off the bottom of the sixth as the ball hit the very top of the wall in left center and trickled over. Pitcher Rachel Riley doubled over Dotson in right as Ivy Renfroe was replaced in the circle by Hosfield. The Murfreesboro, Tenn., product got third baseman Annie Lamar to ground out for the first retirement, but was soon victimized by RBI singles from shortstop Kara Dill, Cervantes and Aull as Kentucky nabbed a 9-5 advantage.
Dotson tried to keep Lady Vol hopes alive in the top of the seventh by blasting a solo home run to cut the gap to three tallies, but a eventual bouncer to third ended UK's victory.