KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (release) -- With heavy rain just a few minutes from delaying things on Sunday for the second straight afternoon at Lee Softball Stadium, senior designated player Shelby Burchell beat the weather by blasting a two-run, walk-off HR as the #9 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (27-8, 9-5 Southeastern Conference) secured a series victory over Kentucky, 4-2.
For Burchell, the homer marked her first of the campaign, as part of a 1-for-2, two-RBI effort, the 25th of her career in the Orange & White and proved remarkably similar to the walk-off blast the Columbia, Tenn., native registered back in the 2011 SEC Tournament Championship Game in Oxford, Miss.
”I just went up to the plate thinking that I needed to do my job,” Burchell said. “I knew my teammates had my back, and that my teammates in front of me had posted great at-bats. I didn’t want to be the weak link, so I wanted to go in there and do what I’d been doing all day. See the pitches, wait for my pitch and drive it.”
Junior second baseman Lauren Gibson was 2-for-3 at the plate, scoring two runs while blasting her team-leading 10th HR of the season in the bottom of the third. Sophomore center fielder Tory Lewis was 2-for-3 overall as the Tennessee offense out-hit the Wildcats by an 8-5 total.
In the circle sophomore Ellen Renfroe improved to 19-2 overall and 7-2 in conference action, allowing one run on one hit with a walk and two strikeouts over 2.2 frames of relief. Junior Ivy Renfroe started the contest, permitting a single tally on four hits with no walks and four K’s in 4.1 innings.
“Today was a huge win, because Kentucky is a much better team than its record indicates,” Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Karen Weekly said. “We knew that coming into this weekend, and in our opinion, they are the best under .500 team in the country without question. They are going to make some serious noise in the postseason. It was really big for us to get this seventh-inning comeback. It seems like we’ve been on the other end of those at times this year. After Friday night, our team really needed this win today.”
Ivy Renfroe picked up right where she left off in Saturday’s five-inning shutout effort, requiring just eight pitches to retire shortstop Kara Dill, third baseman Brittany Cervantes and designated player Rachel Riley in order during the top of the first via a pair of ground balls and a strikeout.
An infield single and the team-best 16th stolen base of the season from junior third baseman Raven Chavanne got the Big Orange offense off to a quick start in the bottom of the first. Unfortunately, a pair of pop-ups from junior right fielder Kat Dotson and sophomore shortstop Madison Shipman and a ground ball off the bat of Gibson left the UT speedster stranded in scoring position as the opening frame concluded at 0-0.
The Wildcats managed their initial base knock of the contest with two outs in the top of the second as first baseman Lauren Cumbess delivered a single deep into the hole at short. She never moved from there, however, as second baseman Krystal Smith went down swinging for Ivy Renfroe’s second K of the match-up.
The Big Orange missed a huge scoring opportunity in the bottom of the second, leaving the bases loaded. The frame began with Burchell reaching on catcher’s interference, followed by a walk to junior first baseman Melissa Brown. Wildcat pitcher Chanda Bell retired the next two hitters but a Lewis single to center put Lady Vols on each base. Unfortunately it was all for naught, with Chavanne hitting a grounder to first that was tossed home by Cumbess to register the third out.
A lead-off double into right center by Kentucky’s Emily Jolly started a scoring opportunity for the Blue & White in the top of the third. Following a strikeout of left fielder Ellen Weaver, Dill hit a chopper over Brown at first and down the line for a RBI two-bagger as Jolly crossed for a 1-0 lead. A wild pitch advanced a runner within 60 feet of pay dirt, but she remained right there as Cervantes went down swinging for the second time in the contest and Riley popped out harmlessly to second.
The Lady Vols answered right UK’s score right back in bottom of the third via the long ball. With two retired in the frame, Gibson saw a pitch she liked, drilling her team-leading 10th HR of the season out of Lee Stadium to dead-lock the match-up at 1-1.
A one-out single through the middle of the infield during Kentucky’s half of the fifth by Jolly ended Ivy Renfroe’s stint in the circle as sister Ellen entered in relief. Weaver blasted a drive deep to left but just foul as newly-entered defensive sub Whitney Hammond tracked the ball down on the run near the track. Tennessee made a choice to walk Dill intentionally to get to Cervantes, and the move paid dividends as UK’s all-time leading HR hitter lifted a fly ball that Lewis tracked down in center to end the threat.
Tennessee quickly got a runner aboard in the bottom of the fifth as a result of a Dotson base knock. Following a strikeout, Gibson advanced Dotson up to second by lacing a single into the outfield with just one out. After a Burchell sac bunt, good fortune aided UT in taking the lead as Brown hit a sharp grounder to second but the throw was low and couldn’t be handled by Cumbess, allowing Dotson to cross for a 2-1 advantage.
Suddenly in possession of a lead to protect, Ellen Renfroe did her part, retiring the Wildcats one-two-three in the sixth. Riley and right fielder Ginny Carroll struck out against the 6-0 right hander and Joiner chopped out to short as UT maintained its one-run lead.
With Kentucky facing its last opportunity in the top of the seventh, Cumbess got the ‘Cats off to a promising start with a first-pitch single back through the middle. A sacrifice bunt advanced pinch runner Sarah Frazer to second, while a grounder to Chavanne at third placed Frazer 60 feet from pay dirt. That proved big as Ellen Renfroe uncorked a wild pitch to the backstop, allowing Frazer to scamper home and dead-lock the scoreboard at 2-2. Two pitches later Weaver flew out to centerfielder Lewis to conclude the half-inning.
Shipman nearly contributed the late-inning heroics by sending the first pitch of the bottom of the seventh into center field, but came up just a bit short as Kara Howard caught the ball in the middle of the warning track. Gibson gave the Big Orange a base runner after Bell plunked her with a 1-0 offering. Burchell then stepped to the dish and rocketed a 2-1 pitch out of Lee Stadium to give the Lady Vols the walk-off victory.