KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (utladyvols.com) -- Facing elimination from the NCAA Knoxville Regional on Sunday, May 22, at the Lee Softball Stadium, No. 5 Tennessee (49-12) rallied from deficits on two separate occasions, including plating a score during a seventh-inning rally to close within a single run. Unfortunately, UT’s season came to a shocking end on a close play at the plate as No. 22 Oklahoma State (40-17) held on to post a 6-5 victory and advance on to NCAA Super Regionals.
With one tally across in the top of the seventh and Lady Vol senior center fielder Kelly Grieve stationed at second base with two outs and UT facing a one-run deficit, sophomore second baseman Lauren Gibson lined a sharp single through the left side of the infield. Grieve roared around third and arrived at the dish at virtually the same time as a strong throw by Oklahoma State left fielder Tamara Brown. The call of out was signaled on Grieve’s slide as the contest came to a sudden conclusion.
Sophomore right fielder Kat Dotson led the Big Orange offense by going 2-for-4 at the plate with a pair of RBIs (giving her 62 for the season) and junior first baseman Shelby Burchell (1-for-2) blasted her 15th HR of the year as Tennessee out-hit the Cowgirls, 8-7. Sophomore second baseman Lauren Gibson was 2-for-4, while freshman shortstop Madison Shipman (1-for-2, double) and junior third baseman Jessica Spigner were each credited with an RBI. Sophomore left fielder Raven Chavanne was 1-for-2 with two runs scored and her team-best 33rd stolen base.
In relief of her sister Ivy Renfroe (2.2 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 2 K’s), freshman Ellen Renfroe took the loss to drop to 26-7. The Jackson, Tenn., native allowed two earned runs on four hits with a walk and two strikeouts over 3.1 innings of effort.
“All the credit goes to Oklahoma State,” Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. “Our kids played hard, fought hard all the way. They (Oklahoma State) just got some clutch hits, and sometimes we didn’t. For the series we out-hit them, but some of those hits didn’t come at timely times. They had a great game plan. I thought we had game plan too. Our kids went up swinging the bat pretty well. This stuff just happens in playoff softball. Let’s give credit to them, and we need to move on and get ready for next year.”
After Tennessee went down in order in the top of the first, Oklahoma State manufactured a run with a lot of hustle in the bottom half.
For the second consecutive day, OSU third baseman Mariah Gearhart was struck by a pitch leading off the contest. She managed to swipe second to reach scoring position with one retired. Second baseman Alysia Hamilton chopped a ball just out in front of the plate that forced UT junior catcher Ashley Andrews to race out from her defensive position to corral it before tossing on to Burchell at first. With no Lady Vol covering the plate, Gearhart never stopped on her turn around third, sliding in just under an Andrews’ tag as the Cowgirls nabbed a 1-0 advantage.
Opening the top of the third, Burchell came very close to dead-locking the contest. The Columbia, Tenn., native blasted a ball that threatened to leave Lee Stadium, but OSU’s Sammy Jo Diffendaffer managed to make a catch on the run while crashing into the wall. With two down in the inning, Andrews managed a walk and swiped second with Chavanne at the plate. The Thousand Oaks, Calif., native joined her teammate on the base paths via free pass as Grieve stepped to the dish with an opportunity to get UT on the scoreboard. She slapped a promising ball that nearly got over Gearhart at third, but the fielder managed a leaping snag before throwing across the diamond to leave the UT duo stranded.
Having escaped a jam in the top of the third, the Cowgirls managed to add to their advantage in the bottom half, scoring a pair of tallies on two hits. Center fielder Kelsey Anchors started the frame by drawing a walk before Gearhart reached on a bunt single while attempting to drop a sacrifice. The runners were moved up into scoring position on a sac, setting the stage for a sacrifice fly by second baseman Alysia Hamilton and an RBI single to left by first baseman Julie Ward as OSU raced to a 3-0 lead.
Dotson helped the Lady Vols answer back in the top of the fourth by christening the inning with a lead-off infield single. With two retired and the Savannah, Ga., native stationed at second after advancing on a long foul out, Shipman ripped a double just inside the left field line as Dotson crossed easily to cut the gap to 3-1.
For the third time in the contest, Oklahoma State managed to get the lead-off hitter on as left fielder Tamara Brown laced a ball into the hole between first and second opening the bottom of the fourth. Burchell nearly made a tough play moving to her right, but the sphere tipped off the edge of her back-handed attempt. Catcher Ashley Boyd hit a sharp bouncer to third as Spigner made the play and cut down the lead runner on a strong toss to second. Right fielder Sammy Jo Diffendaffer blooped a ball into short right field for what appeared would be a single. Boyd got crossed up and started back to the bag at first as she thought the ball might be caught. A toss from Dotson to Shipman covering second went down as a bizarre fielder’s choice for the second out. Anchors lifted a fly ball to left that was handled routinely by Chavanne to conclude the frame.
Burchell’s lead-off blast to center field on the first pitch of the fifth moved Tennessee within a single run at 3-2. Freshman designated player Melissa Davin walked and sophomore pinch runner Whitney Hammond advanced to second on a sac bunt from Andrews. With one down in the frame, Chavanne beat out an infield hit and quickly swiped her team-leading 33rd bag of the campaign. Dotson stepped to the dish and continued UT’s two-out season heroics with a two-RBI single to center as the Lady Vols nabbed their initial lead of the contest at 4-3.
UT missed a golden opportunity in the top of the sixth to plate some insurance on the scoreboard as Burchell and Gibson were left standing at second and third, respectively.
Oklahoma State made UT pay in the bottom half of the frame for letting the chance slip by as a lead-off single by shortstop Chelsea Garcia and a crucial throwing error on a potential fielder’s choice at second, put two Cowgirls on base with no one out. Boyd followed with a swinging bunt that found a perfect spot just to the side of the circle for a hit. With the bases juiced, Ellen Renfroe struck out Diffendaffer before working ahead of pinch hitter Tarah Ettinger, 0-2. Three straight balls sent the count full before the batter ripped a shot into the gap in right center. The base knock, as well as an errant relay to the infield, cleared the base paths as OSU re-took the advantage at 6-4.
Suddenly down to one final chance to extend its season, Tennessee mounted a stirring rally. Chavanne opened the frame with a walk and was soon joined on the bases via an infield single by Grieve. After a chopper to second from Dotson advanced both runners into scoring position, Spigner lifted a sacrifice fly to center as Chavanne scored to make it 6-5. Down to the Big Orange’s final out, Gibson delivered a clutch single through the left side of the infield. OSU’s Brown came up throwing on the play and fired a strike to nail Grieve at home to bring a shocking end to the contest.