STARKVILLE, Miss. (release) -- On Sunday at the MSU Softball Stadium in Starkville, Miss., a six-run fourth inning proved the big outburst in helping the #11 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (23-7, 7-4 Southeastern Conference) finish off its dominant series sweep over Mississippi State (18-15, 3-10 SEC), 8-0 (5 inn.).
During the three-contest set, the Big Orange hit .364 overall as a squad and out-scored the Bulldogs by a commanding 26-3 clip.
Junior pitcher Ivy Renfroe picked up her sixth victory of the 2012 campaign, scattering five hits, walking none and striking out three over a five-inning, complete-game shutout effort.
At the plate senior designated player Shelby Burchell was a perfect 2-for-2 with a walk and two RBIs, junior right fielder Kat Dotson was 2-for-4 with a run scored and a RBI, junior first baseman Melissa Brown contributed a 1-for-2 performance with a walk and a RBI, and sophomore shortstop Madison Shipman was credited with her team-best 32nd RBI via a sacrifice fly. Junior third baseman Raven Chavanne was also 1-for-3 with a walk and sophomore left fielder Melissa Davin went 1-for-3 with a triple and two tallies.
“First of all, I am really proud of our team,” Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. “We played eight games in nine days in three different venues. The first was in Fayetteville, Ark., then Tuscaloosa, Ala., and finally Starkville, Miss. Winning six out of eight of those games against tough SEC competition on the road is what this conference is all about. I thought our offense really started coming around, our pitching has remained strong, probably the strong point of our team right now. I’m just very proud of the way we’ve played over this difficult stretch.”
Tennessee’s offense threatened right off the bat in the top of the first as Chavanne led-off the match-up by drawing a four-pitch walk off MSU starter Stephanie Becker. The Thousand Oaks, Calif., native swiped her team-leading 13th bag of the campaign and soon advanced to third by virtue of a passed ball charged to MSU catcher Ka’ili Smith. With two retired junior second baseman Lauren Gibson (0-for-2, two walks) managed her own free pass, placing Lady Vols at the corners as UT attempted to score during the opening frame for the third straight game in the series. Unfortunately for the Big Orange, a swinging strikeout left the duo stranded on the base paths.
The Bulldogs recorded their initial hit and base runner with two down in the bottom of the first as third baseman Sam Lenahan laced a single into left center. Renfroe responded strongly to the base knock, ending the frame by striking out left fielder Jessica Cooley swinging at a rise ball.
Another lead-off walk, this one issued to UT’s Brown, got the Maroon & White defense in more trouble in the top of the second. A shot through the infield for a single by Burchell, her first stolen base of 2012 and a fielder’s choice off the bat of senior catcher Ashley Andrews packed the bags full of Big Orange with still none retired. Consecutive Lady Vol strikeouts threatened to de-rail the threat, but Dotson delivered a RBI single. On the play Brown scored to make it 1-0, but a strong throw from right fielder Brittany Gates to the plate cut down Burchell attempting to score to conclude the threat.
Bell attempted to bring the ‘Dogs right back in the bottom of the second, driving a double off the wall in right field to begin the frame. Once again, UT’s 6-0 right-hander fought off the threat, striking out shortstop Erin Nesbit before getting solid defensive plays from Chavanne and Brown as Mississippi State’s Bell remained stuck 60 feet from pay dirt.
The Lady Vol offense manufactured one of its patented two-out RBIs in the top of the third to nab a 2-0 advantage. Davin stepped to the dish and lifted a high fly ball that appeared to be lost in the sun, dropping in between Bulldog outfielders for a triple. Brown successfully hacked at the first pitch from Becker, lacing a run-scoring base hit just inside the line as Davin trotted home easily from 60 feet away.
Renfroe settled in during the bottom of the third, retiring the Bulldogs in order as center fielder Jessica Offutt popped out, Smith struck out swinging and Heidi Shape grounded out to second.
Sophomore center fielder Tory Lewis managed the third lead-off walk of the contest for the Big Orange, starting off the top of the fourth with a free pass from Becker, and quickly swiped second to reach scoring position. Chavanne dropped a perfect bunt for a hit that was thrown away at first as Lewis scored to make it 3-0. With UT’s lead-off speedster stationed at second, Dotson laced a base knock into the outfield. The Savannah, Ga., product noticed no one covering second and continued into the bag for a double as Chavanne rolled into third. Shipman blasted a drive plenty far enough on to the outfield grass for a sacrifice fly as Tennessee’s advantage expanded to four tallies. Gibson walked, concluding Becker’s stint in the circle as Misty Flesher entered in relief. The new pitcher’s defense let her down immediately as a miscue on a Davin bouncer allowed UT’s fifth tally to cross the dish. A two-RBI single from Burchell and another MSU error, this one on a ground ball from Lewis that allowed Burchell to score, set the final offensive damage at 8-0.
With State trying to get back into the contest, Lenahan did her part by christening the bottom of the fourth with a double into the right center field gap. Following an infield pop-up, first baseman Brittany Bell bounced a single up the middle as the lead runner moved to third with one retired. Chavanne raced over near the MSU dugout to nab a pop-up off the bat of Nesbit for the second out of the frame. With pinch runner Ashley Phillips occupying second following a steal, designated player Chrissie Rovtar hit a chopper that Gibson handled as the Bulldogs failed to get on the board.
Down to their final chance the Bulldogs sent Gates, Offutt and Smith to the plate in the bottom of the fifth. Gates ripped a shot right back to the circle, but Renfroe made a terrific grab for the initial out. Following a bouncer to second from Offutt, Smith granted MSU some brief life with a base hit and a stolen base. She wouldn’t advance any further, however, as Shape chopped back to the circle, completing the Tennessee victory via run-rule.
The #11 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team finally returns to home action at the Lee Softball Stadium on Tues., March 27, beginning at 5 p.m. ET in a recently scheduled doubleheader against Furman.