Spigner, Gibson lead No. 11 Lady Vols past Iowa, 7-3

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (utladyvols.com) -- Behind a pair of two-hit, multiple-RBI efforts from junior designated player Jessica Spigner and sophomore second baseman Lauren Gibson, No. 11 Tennessee (22-4) opened its seven-game home stand on Thursday night at the Lee Softball Stadium by defeating Iowa, 7-3.

Spigner posted a 2-for-4 performance with her seventh and team-best eighth double of the season to go along with four RBIs, while Gibson was 2-for-4 with a two-bagger and knocked in three runs to give her 28 RBIs for the year. Sophomore third baseman Raven Chavanne was a perfect 2-for-2 at the plate with a pair of tallies, while senior center fielder Kelly Grieve (1-for-3), sophomore right fielder Kat Dotson (1-for-3, two runs), junior first baseman Shelby Burchell (1-for-2, run) and freshman left fielder Chelsea O’Connor (1-for-2) each managed one of Tennessee’s 10 total hits in the match-up.

As UT’s starter Ivy Renfroe (7-2) picked up her seventh win of the campaign, allowing two earned runs on eight hits with four walks and five strikeouts in five innings of work. Freshman Ellen Renfroe struck out three and permitted just one hit over two frames of relief.

“I was really pleased with the effort tonight from Jessica Spigner and Lauren Gibson,” Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. “I thought those two kind of carried us tonight. We left a lot of base runners on in this game. That’s something we did last weekend at Kentucky and against Tennessee State before we blew that game open. I know Iowa will come out tomorrow night fired up. We’ll definitely have to play better against them to get another win.”

Despite allowing a lead-off walk to Iowa’s Katie Keim in the top of first, Ivy Renfroe settled down to retire the next three batters in order. Third baseman Michelle Zoeller popped up her potential sacrifice bunt for a big first out. From there shortstop Chelsey Carmody struck out swinging and catcher Liz Watkins fouled out to junior Shelby Burchell at first.

Tennessee’s offense wasted zero time getting started against UI hurler Kayla Massey in the bottom of the opening frame, putting up a crooked number on the scoreboard. Chavanne got the outburst started with an infield single and quickly moved to second on her squad-best 18th steal of 2011. A sac bunt from Grieve advanced the runner 60 feet to third, where she was joined on the base paths via walk by Dotson. An infield base knock by Gibson was enough to plate Chavanne with the game’s initial run as UT nabbed a 1-0 lead. With two retired in the inning and despite the fire alarm going off at Lee Stadium, Spigner blasted the first of her two doubles in the contest to plate two more Lady Vols for a 3-0 advantage.

Iowa first baseman Stephanie Ochoa, who went 4-for-4 in the contest, opened the top of the second with a single into left. She never moved an inch from there, however, as Ivy Renfroe coerced a foul out and struck out back-to-back Hawkeyes to end the frame.

After UT missed a golden scoring chance in the bottom of the second by leaving a pair of base runners stranded, Iowa nearly got on the scoreboard in the top of the third. Keim delivered a one-out single to center, but was soon called out via leaving the base early. That proved a big call as a subsequent walk and then a Carmody single to left might very well have been enough to plate a Hawkeye tally. UT freshman Madison Shipman handled a bouncer from Watkins at short to end the once promising UI threat.

Back-to-back doubles off the bats of Burchell and Gibson in the bottom of the third pushed Tennessee in front 4-0.

Iowa starting chipping away at its four-run deficit in the top of the fourth as Ochoa christened the inning with a single back through the middle. For the second consecutive at-bat Dowling popped up her potential sac bunt attempt for a big first out. That also proved to be a huge play as right fielder Nikki Gentile walked and center fielder Ashley Akers singled to pack the bags full of Hawkeyes. Keim stepped to the dish and ripped a base hit to right that was enough to score Ochoa to make it 4-1. On the play Dotson came up throwing from right, firing a strike to the plate that nailed Gentile to conclude the frame with no further damage.

UI’s run seemed to kick-start the Big Orange offense in the bottom of the fourth as UT tallied three more runs on a trio of hits to expand its advantage. Chavanne and Dotson singled to put Lady Vols at the corners with just one retired. A Burchell walk loaded the bases, and Gibson soon knocked in a run via an infield groundout. Spigner followed with her second double of the contest as sophomore pinch runner Whitney Hammond and Dotson each scored to improve the lead to 7-1.

The Hawkeyes scratched out a tally on a walk, a double by Ochoa and then a passed ball in the fifth and received a solo HR by left fielder Jenny Schuelke during the sixth to claw back within 7-3.

That was as close Iowa would get as Lady Vol reliever Ellen Renfroe fought out of a little trouble in the top of the seventh to secure the victory. With two down in the frame, strike three in the dirt to Watkins bounced away from UT’s catcher and was subsequently thrown away at first for an error as the runner ended up standing in scoring position. Ochoa followed with a single up the middle to place UI runners at the corners. Dowling struck out on three straight Ellen Renfroe pitches, however, to wrap up the first match-up of the teams’ two-game series.

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