KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UT Release) – In front of 1,511 fans at the Lee Softball Stadium on Wednesday night and playing without the services of junior All-American third baseman Raven Chavanne, the #5 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (45-9) got hits from 10 different players in winning its season-best 18th-straight game and ending #8 Louisville’s 18-game victory skein with a commanding 8-1 triumph over the Cardinals.
Chavanne sat out the match-up against the Cardinals as a precaution after suffering from concussion symptoms sustained during a collision at first base against Ole Miss on Sun., April 29. She is expected to be at 100% for next week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (May 10-12).
The Lady Vol offense banged out 10 hits, all by different players, led by senior designated player Shelby Burchell (triple) and freshman catcher Hannah Akamine as each went 1-for-4 with two RBIs. Junior second baseman and Wednesday night’s lead-off hitter Lauren Gibson blasted her team-leading 13th HR to open the bottom of the first, walked once and scored twice, while junior right fielder Kat Dotson (1-for-2, double, run, walk), sophomore shortstop Madison Shipman (1-for-3, run, SEC-best 58th RBI) and junior first baseman Melissa Brown (1-for-4, double, RBI) each knocked in a tally.
Junior pitcher Ivy Renfroe (19-6) also stretched her unbeaten streak to 14 consecutive decisions dating back to March 21 and lowered her overall ERA to 1.99, allowing a single run on just two hits with a walk and five strikeouts during her 13th complete game of 2012.
“I was worried about this game because Louisville is good,” Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. “They are a good club. We were going to play without Raven (Chavanne), who is currently the USA Softball National Player of the Week, and that always bothers you. The kids took on the challenge and stepped up to the plate, and we just had a really good game. Both sides made a couple of errors, but I think that is because both teams were hyped. You have the number one team in the BIG EAST and the number three team in the SEC, and everybody gets hyped for the game. I do think Louisville is a good squad, we just hit the ball hard tonight.
“As far as Lauren Gibson in the lead-off spot, well I’m not just taking credit, but that is why we put her up there. We figured she could come in and hit a deep ball right away, and she did. It’s nice to have her in the leadoff slot, but it will be nice to have Raven back.”
After a quick one-two-three inning for Louisville against Renfroe in the top of the first, UT’s sub in the lead-off spot performed her job to perfection in the bottom half of the opening frame. Stepping in for the injured Chavanne, Gibson battled out of a 0-2 hole to a full count before blasting a solo shot out of Lee Stadium, her team-best 13th big fly of the season, for a 1-0 lead. Tennessee also got a hit by pitch from Dotson and a walk to Shipman, but each were wiped off the base paths via caught stealing on strong throws from UL catcher Maggie Ruckenbrod.
The Cardinals managed their initial base runner starting the top of the second as Renfroe hit first baseman Alicja Wolny with the first pitch of the frame. With one down following a strikeout of center fielder Jordan Trimble, designated player Taner Fowler moved Wolny into scoring position on a swinging bunt that was handled by Renfroe for out number two. That proved an important play because Ruckenbrod hit a single back up the middle for an RBI and ended up on third after a fielding miscue, tying the contest at 1-1. A grounder to Gibson at second off the bat of third baseman Katelyn Mann finished off the frame but not before the damage had been done.
Senior third baseman Ashley Andrews got what proved to be the major outburst started in the bottom of the third with an infield hit to start off the frame. Following a sacrifice bunt that moved the runner to scoring position, a huge miscue at second base on a bouncer from Gibson put runners at the corners and opened the door for a four-run inning. Dotson laced a double into the gap for a RBI, Shipman delivered a RBI base knock through the infield and then Burchell blasted a two-RBI triple off the bottom of the wall, expanding the UT advantage to a commanding 5-1.
With Renfroe cruising in the circle having retired 10 straight Louisville batters in a stretch from the second through the fifth innings, the Big Orange offense continued to score runs to support her cause by tacking on two more via the usual fifth-inning magic. Senior Holly Baker drew a one-out walk, and then the Lady Vols were aided after Brown reached on a fielder’s choice, as a Louisville throw to second sailed into the outfield to put runners on second and third. Akamine singled to bring in a pair of runs and advanced to third after left fielder Jennifer Esteban let the ball slip under her glove and roll to the wall. Following an Andrews groundout, UL reliever Caralisa Connell walked both pinch hitter Cheyanne Tarango and Gibson to load the bases, but UT could not capitalize, leaving the runners stranded.
The Cardinals finally registered a base runner again to begin the top of the sixth as shortstop Whitney Arion drew a lead-off walk. Following a Renfroe pitch in the dirt that allowed the base occupant to move into scoring position, Esteban ripped a shot back through the middle. Sophomore Tory Lewis corralled the roller in center and came up firing to the plate for a huge first out, cutting down Arion to prevent a run from scoring. Esteban moved to third on a groundout by right fielder Kristin Austin, but remained right there as second baseman Katie Keller bounced out to third as Andrews made the play to conclude the threat.
Tennessee plated a run in the bottom of the frame, notching a pair of two-out hits to push the lead to seven. Baker reached on a single and soon crossed home plate after Brown rocketed a double off the wall.
Down to their final chance in the top of the seventh, the Cards went down quietly to conclude the game as Wolny grounded out, Trimble lined out to Andrews at third and Lewis caught Fowler’s fly ball out in center field.