Jessica Spigner’s shot in the fifth inning sailed over the left side of the scoreboard, cleared the first set of railroad tracks at ground level and embedded in the bank just below the elevated tracks.
That brought Tennessee’s lead to 7-0, and Shelby Burchell’s double would have been a triple had the game not ended when Lauren Gibson plated the eighth run just seconds before Burchell reached third.
“It’s fantastic,” Spigner said. “Our whole team, we’re so strong and no matter how bad someone does the other girls are going to pick us up, so we do a really good job of having each other’s backs.
Following a game in which Ellen Renfroe threw a 2-0 shutout on Thursday, big sister Ivy Renfroe tossed a no-hitter on 98 pitches that didn’t come easy as she plunked two batters and mishandled a soft ground ball for an error after hearing her coach yell for the play to be at first while her teammates behind her called for second.
Still, Renfroe escaped trouble for Tennessee (41-6, 17-4) when she had to and got two outstanding defensive plays – one from Spigner at third in combo with Burchell at first and another from shortstop Melissa Brown, who entered the game in the sixth inning.
In the fifth inning, Spigner snared a hard-hit ball to her right, but her throw to first pulled Burchell off the bag up the line. Burchell caught the ball and swept Chelsea Raines with the tag at the last second for the first out of the inning. The no-hitter was preserved with fly outs to left and then right to end the inning.
“Shelby had my back on that,” Spigner said. “I made a bad throw, but Shelby made the play. We pride ourselves on having great defense, and work hard on defense in practice every practice we have.
“Our pitcher needs us behind her. She needs to have faith in us, and we do a good job supporting her and all of our pitchers.”
Brown got Tennessee out of a jam in the sixth inning – which turned into the last at-bat for Mississippi State (22-26, 8-13) – after Ali Bainbridge walked and Briana Bell reached on a ground ball fielder’s choice, wiping out Bainbridge at second.
Kaili Smith reached on Renfroe’s fielding error, and Bell advanced to second. Brown then snared a low-ball line drive that popped up before settling into her glove for the second out. Brown fired to second to double up Bell to end the inning.
Pitching Coach Marty McDaniel needed a quick talk with Renfroe in the first inning that brought a smile to her face, especially when catcher Ashley Andrews arrived in the circle.
“I missed a sign,” Renfroe said. “I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, that looked really bad.’ They were coming out there thinking I was going crazy. I was fine.”
Renfroe threw a no-hitter in her freshman year against Western Carolina and Friday was the second of the sophomore’s career. It also gave Renfroe her 15th win of the season, but don’t mention any numbers to her.
“It’s me,” Renfroe said. “It’ll get me thinking more, thinking about what I am doing, Oh, I’ve got to do this. I can’t think about anything like that, or it will get in my head. I have to resist looking at stats.”
That is an unusual stance in an almost obsessively stat-driven sport.
“It is,” Renfroe said. “But I don’t like looking at them.”
Renfroe recorded five strikeouts, walked two and did a good job of battling batters when behind in the count in six innings of work.
Over her last six appearances, Renfroe is 6-0 with a 0.40 ERA, 31 strikeouts in 35 innings and three complete-game shutouts while allowing just two earned runs. The sophomore hasn’t allowed an earned run over her last 25.2 innings.
“Ivy is a very accomplished pitcher,” Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. “She beat Michigan at Michigan (last season) and beat Arizona and Georgia out at the World Series. She’s really good. A lot of people talk about that sophomore jinx, and I think she had a little bit of that with the expectations so high, but I wouldn’t trade her for anybody.
“She’s a great pitcher, and I am really glad to have her.”
Spigner was one of the two homers on the night – Kelly Grieve sent a ball over the rightfield wall to bring home Raven Chavanne, who had opened the third inning with a sharp single to centerfield.
That inning seemed to get the Lady Vols on track offensively. Chavanne did her part with an overall 3-3 performance at the plate, as did rightfielder Chelsea O’Connor, who was 2-2 in place of Kat Dotson, who was held out Friday to rest a sore knee. Gibson also was 2-2 with two walks.
After Thursday’s game Weekly said he wanted to see more offense Friday, so he should be pleased.
“I think so,” Chavanne said. “Even though we won (Thursday), it was a struggle to win. We had a key hit by Melissa Davin. Today I think we came really focused, really ready. Not that we weren’t yesterday but just really ready to dominate today, and I think we did that at the plate.
“This is the SEC. There are no easy teams. You can mercy a team and in the next inning they can come back and mercy you. Any way to win no matter if it’s by error, key hits, mercy, I’ll take it. I think anyone will at this point.”
Tennessee scored a run in the first inning after Chavanne legged out a bunt and stole second. Chavanne got to third on a single by Gibson and then stole home, sliding into the umpire in the process as Chavanne went under the attempted tag and knocked him to the ground. Chris Nabors lost his facemask as he went down and called Chavanne safe as soon as he scrambled to his feet. Chavanne smiled and handed him the mask.
But Tennessee nearly went down in order in the second inning – minus O’Connor getting hit with a pitch – and although the Lady Vols scored two in the third on Grieve’s homer they squandered additional chances to score with a strikeout, ground-out and pop-up when the ball never left the infield.
“I had to give them a little pep talk at the end of the third inning,” Weekly said. “I didn’t think we were getting what we needed to get, and they responded.”
Tennessee got another run in the fourth after Chavanne tripled when the ball hit the padding atop the wall and then fell to the warning track. O’Connor, who had beat out a ground ball to shortstop, scored on the play.
But Chavanne was left stranded when Kelly Grieve was caught stealing when Bainbridge blocked the bag and applied the tag.
“We were doing fine until I ran us out of an inning,” Weekly said. “I didn’t think anybody could throw Kelly Grieve out, but I was wrong.”
Weekly smiled after the game and said he could hear one fan’s disapproval of his steal sign.
“One of them yelled at me, ‘Try to steal another base,’ which they were right,” Weekly said with a laugh. “I told the TV people (during a SportSouth in-game interview in the fifth inning), they said, ‘Your offense has really come alive.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, we’d be doing better if I didn’t run them out of an inning.’
“I am proud of them. They responded really well. They keep responding, but what I told them in the post-game is you can’t stay in these one- and two-nothing ball games for a long time. One of these times it’s not going to come when you push the button.”
Misty Flesher came on in relief of Mississippi State starting pitcher Stephanie Becker in the fifth inning, and the Lady Vols put three more runs on the board after Gibson doubled, Burchell singled, and Spigner brought them all home with her towering blast.
“That was a monster shot,” said Weekly, who stands nearly in the leftfield grass in foul territory well behind the coach’s box when Spigner comes to bat. “It hit on the hill over there. Jessica hit 16 home runs as a freshman, and she’s starting to round back into that shape.”
It was the junior’s 12th homer of the season and brought the crowd of 1,214 to its feet.
“This is a tough conference,” Weekly said. “It takes a little bit out of you your sophomore year, and it takes a while to round back in.”
The Lady Vols concluded the scoring with a single run in the sixth inning on a two-out line drive to the outfield by Burchell that brought home Gibson, who had walked. That was the eighth run for Tennessee and ended the game.
The two teams square off for the season finale Saturday, and Dotson remains a game-day decision in terms of playing as she deals with recurring pain in her knee after off-season surgery.
“We’re hoping to get (Dotson) back,” Weekly said. “She’s sort of been the catalyst. It’s day to day. It gives her a lot of pain. She could have played today, but I don’t want her in pain. Some days it really hurts, and some days it doesn’t.”
Tennessee will go for the sweep on a short turnaround with the game scheduled for noon at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium.
“They have to respect their opponent, which they do, (but) they’ve got to understand that Mississippi State does not want to be swept,” Weekly said. “They’re going to come out here and play hard, and we haven’t seen their pitcher, (Kylie) Vry, buy she’s a pretty good lefty for them, and we haven’t seen her.
“These games are so important to us because the league lead is so close, and we end at Florida. … Every game is important and anybody in this league can beat you.”
Michael and Shari Davin, the parents of freshman Melissa Davin of Fresno, Calif., are attending their first Lady Vols’ series in Knoxville. Michael Davin discussed the trip and their daughter, who hit a two-run homer to win Friday’s game.