Knoxville, Tenn.--(UTSports) Rainey Gaffin hit a bases-loaded walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh to lift No. 3 Tennessee past Middle Tennessee State, 9-8, on Tuesday in a chilly inaugural Mid-State Classic at Ridley Park.
The temperature dropped rapidly as the sun went down and the wind kicked up in Columbia. The wind chill dipped below 40 degrees as the game progressed into the later innings. The official attendance of the Mid-State Classic was 3,000 as fans packed stands down the first base line and third base line and beyond the outfield fences.
Tennessee (25-3) scored two in the second, two in the third, three in the fourth inning. Middle Tennessee State scored two runs in the top of the fourth off a home run by Laura Dukes. The Blue Raiders (6-23) made a strong run late in the game, climbing to within 7-5 in the top of the sixth when Nina Dever hit a three-run homer down the left field line. In the top of the seventh, MTSU crept to within 7-6 on an RBI single to right by Samantha Nieves and then pulled ahead, 8-7, on a two-run hit by Dever to left. Annie Aldrete hit a leadoff homer in the top of the seventh to tie the game at 8-8 before Gaffin came through with the game-winning single through the left side.
The win gives Tennessee 79-straight wins against in-state opponents and 74 straight under the direction of Ralph Weekly and Karen Weekly. The Lady Vols are now 108-3 all-time against teams from the state of Tennessee.
Gaffin was a perfect 4-for-4 with two RBIs and one run scored. Madison Shipman and Lexi Overstreet each had two RBIs in the win. Melissa Davin scored two runs and 10 different Lady Vols recorded a hit in the game.
Ellen Renfroe improved to 16-0 on the year. She struck out seven and allowed eight runs over seven innings. The win marked Renfroe's 14th complete game of the season.
Caitlin McClure started the game and pitched three innings with four earned runs allowed. Jordyn Fisherback (3-8) took the loss after allowing five runs over 3.1 relief frames.
Tennessee took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second. With two outs, Taylor Koenig hit an RBI single to center field to plate Hannah Akamine. Gaffin followed with an RBI single to left center to score Haley Tobler.
UT's lead grew to 4-0 in the bottom of the third. With two outs and the bases loaded, Lexi Overstreet hit an two-RBI single through the right side to double Tennessee's lead.
MTSU got on the scoreboard in the top of the fourth when Dukes hit a two-run home run to right center with no outs.
The Lady Vols poured on three runs in the bottom of the fourth to push their lead to 7-2. With one out and runners on second and third, Davin reached base on an error at first base and Gaffin scored from third base. Shipman followed with a two-run double launched to right field.
The Blue Raiders came storming back with three runs in the top of the sixth to pull to within 7-5. With one out, Toney hit a three-run homer down the left field line.
MTSU pulled ahead 8-7 in the top of the seventh to seize control of the game late. With one out and two on, Nieves hit an RBI single to left field to bring the Blue Raiders to within one run. After Renfroe rung up MTSU's top hitter Kayla Toney swinging, Dukes drew an intentional walk to load the bases with two outs. Dever followed with a two-run double to left field to give MTSU the lead.
In the bottom of the seventh, Aldrete sent an 0-1 pitch over the wall in center field to even the game at 8-8. Two batters later, Overstreet reached on an error by the first baseman. Tobler followed with a single through the left side and Alley Perkins entered to pinch run for Overstreet on second. Cheyanne Tarango pinch hit for Koenig and knocked a single through the left side to load the bases. Hannah Devotie pinch ran for Tarango at first base. With a 2-1 count, Gaffin fired a single through the left side to score Perkins from third base and lift the Lady Vols past a surging MTSU team.
Tennessee returns to Sherri Parker Lee Stadium this week to open its SEC home schedule with three games against South Carolina from March 21-23. Friday's SEC home opener is at 6 p.m. ET. The Saturday game has been moved up to a 1:30 p.m. ET start. Sunday's third game will be televised on ESPNU and start at 2:32 p.m. ET.