KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UTLadyVols.com) -- In front of the fourth sell-out crowd of the season (1,649 fans) on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon at the Lee Softball Stadium, back-to-back HR's from juniors Jessica Spigner and Shelby Burchell keyed a seven-run first inning and backed a three-hit shutout from freshman pitcher Ellen Renfroe as No. 5 Tennessee (43-7, 19-5 Southeastern Conference) rolled past Arkansas, 8-0 (5 inn.). The victory marked UT's 19th run-rule triumph of the campaign.
During the opening frame Spigner had the big blow of the contest by blasting her third career grand slam via a towering drive over the scoreboard. For the Santa Clarita, Calif., native the HR marked her team-best 14th of the season, her seventh over UT's last 12 contests and her second big fly of the series against the Razorbacks. Burchell followed immediately with her 13th round-tripper of the campaign, marking the second time the Big Orange had registered back-to-back HR's during 2011 (previously done by Spigner and freshman shortstop Madison Shipman, vs. South Carolina, March 25).
By going 2-for-2 with a pair of doubles, two runs scored, her team-best 29th theft of the season and an RBI, sophomore Raven Chavanne raised her career-best hitting streak to 13 games. The Thousand Oaks, Calif., native has reached base safely all seven times she has stepped to the plate during the Arkansas series with a single, three doubles and three walks. Over the past 13 contests, the 5-8 left fielder is hitting an even .600 (27-of-45) and has lifted her overall batting average to a league-leading .469.
Big Orange senior center fielder Kelly Grieve was 1-for-2 with an RBI via a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fourth, while Shipman was 1-for-2 with an RBI base knock. Junior catcher Ashley Andrews (1-for-1, run) and freshman designated player Melissa Davin (1-for-2, theft, run) each recorded one of Tennessee's eight combined hits.
In the circle Renfroe fired a three-hitter while walking one and striking out four, improving her season mark to 23-3 overall and 10-2 in SEC play. The Jackson, Tenn., native now owns 16 complete games and seven solo shutouts during her rookie campaign.
"We challenged our team to come out today and play hard against Arkansas, and they responded," Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. "Hats off to Jessica Spigner and Shelby Burchell for their back-to-back home runs in the first inning, to Ellen Renfroe for another great effort in the circle and to the top of our line-up for getting on base and igniting our offense."
Tennessee's defense set the tone of the contest during Arkansas' opening at-bat in the top of the first. UA center fielder Becca Carden laced a single to left that dropped in for a hit near the foul line. Chavanne raced over quickly to corral the ball, pivoted and fired a strike to sophomore second baseman Lauren Gibson. The Pasadena, Md., product promptly tagged out Carden, who was attempting to stretch the play into a double, for a vital first retirement. Renfroe finished off the inning by striking out second baseman Jennifer Rambo and coercing a bouncer to third by designated player Courtney Breault.
Most of the scoreboard carnage occurred during the bottom of the first as the Big Orange sent 12 batters to the plate while nabbing a 7-0 advantage. Chavanne got the offense started with a lead-off walk and a stolen base off Arkansas starting pitcher Layne McGuirt. Sophomore right fielder Kat Dotson drew a free pass and then Grieve singled on the infield to pack the bags full of Lady Vols. Following a UT strikeout, Spigner absolutely crushed a pitch over the scoreboard for a bases-clearing grand slam, pushing Tennessee to a 4-0 lead. Burchell came to the dish and made it back-to-back HR's and a five-run lead via a towering solo shot. A base knock by Davin and then an RBI single by Shipman improved the advantage to six runs. Andrews blooped a single that found a hole, and Chavanne cashed the Tumwater, Wash., native in via an RBI two-bagger, Tennessee's sixth consecutive hit as a team, to finalize the frame's scoring at seven tallies.
Arkansas' offense mounted an attack against Renfroe during the top of the third. First baseman Stephanie Brewer christened the frame with a single to center and advanced into scoring position on a swinging bunt off the end of the bat of left fielder Ashley Martindale. After a fly out to right by shortstop Chloe Oprzedek and a looking strikeout of Carden, Rambo walked to load the bases. Breault stepped into the batter's box and made solid contact but Renfroe fielded her position in the circle. The Jackson, Tenn., product made the grab on a bouncer and tossed routinely on to first as the `Hogs left the bases juiced.
A lead-off double by Chavanne starting the bottom of the fourth set the stage for Tennessee to register the crucial eighth tally of the contest and bring the run-rule into play. Following a perfect sac bunt from Dotson, Grieve registered a one-out sacrifice fly to score Chavanne and raise the count to 8-0.
From there Renfroe finished off the lightning quick one-hour and 17-minute contest with a one-two-three top of the fifth. The 6-0 right hander coerced a grounder to third by Brewer, struck out Martindale and forced Oprzedek to lift a routine fly ball to right.
No. 5 Tennessee wraps-up its series against Arkansas on Sun., May 1, at 1 p.m. ET. The radio broadcast will be provided through "The Sports Animal" (check either 99.1/99.3 FM or AM 990) with the audio feed and live video expected to be available for free through UTLadyVols.com/allaccess. 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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