Tennessee had arrived back in town Sunday after its scintillating win Saturday night over Georgia to claim the program’s second overall SEC Tournament trophy and the first since 2006.
The Lady Vols swept Georgia in Athens in the regular season in early April by a combined score of 14-5 in two games and then climbed out of a 4-0 first inning deficit in the postseason tourney this weekend to win 6-5 after Shelby Burchell blasted a ball over the center field fence in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Tennessee was one of seven SEC teams to make the NCAA field of 64 and the lowest among the four national seeds. Regular season champion Alabama (46-8) earned the No. 2 seed, Florida (47-9) was the No. 4 seed and Georgia (47-12) got the No. 6 seed while Tennessee (47-10) was assigned the No. 14 seed.
SEC sisters LSU (38-16), Auburn (39-17) and Kentucky (36-14) earned at-large bids.
“It was a slap in the face to Tennessee,” Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said afterwards to the media. “Georgia gets a six seed, and we beat them three times and we finished higher than them in the conference.
"It was a slap in the face, but in 2007 we were number one all year long and got the five seed.”
Regional play across the country takes place May 19-22, followed by the Super Regionals on May 26-29. The Women’s College World Series is June 2-8 in Oklahoma City, Okla., at the ASA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium.
Tennessee will host its regional and if the Lady Vols survive at home and Texas (44-8) prevails in its regional, they would travel to the Lone Star State for the Super Regional. The other teams in the Austin Regional are Texas State (33-23), Houston (40-18) and Louisiana Lafayette (49-9).
But first the Lady Vols have to handle the teams assigned to Knoxville in ACC regular season champion Georgia Tech (44-10), Oklahoma State (37-17) of the Big 12 Conference and Liberty (30-28), which won the Big South Conference Tournament.
The ESPNU commentators on the NCAA Selection Show opined that the Knoxville Regional was the toughest site as three of the teams are in the top 18 in RPI – Tennessee, 13; Georgia Tech, 14; and Oklahoma State, 18.
Knoxville Regional play begins Friday at 4 p.m. Eastern with Georgia Tech and Oklahoma State at Lee Stadium, followed by Tennessee and Liberty at approximately 6:30 p.m. in a double-elimination format over three days. Play begins Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Eastern.
The 2011 NCAA bid was the eighth consecutive selection for Tennessee, a streak that started in 2004, and ninth overall in program history.
The coaches and players were happy to learn their postseason path, but the reaction was initially muted because of the seed.
Co-Head Coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly talked to the players immediately after the show ended.
“After the initial disappointment of the bracket release, Karen and I and our team decided life is 20 percent what happens to you and 80 percent how you react to it," Weekly said. "We will be ready to play on Friday.”
Weekly emphasized that he disagreed with the seed of 14 but had nothing but respect for the teams assigned to Knoxville.
“The fact that we’re 14 is a slap in the face,” Weekly said. “It’s not a slap in the face of who we’ve got in here. Liberty has always fielded a good strong team. Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech are two very, very, very strong teams nationally. We’ve got a challenge.
“The seed is a slap in the face, not the people who are coming in here. I respect the other teams coming in here.”
Coaches do look for various forms of motivation in postseason, and the Selection Committee handed the Weeklys some material tailor-made for that purpose.
“The players are very angry,” Weekly said. “Absolutely we’ll use it as motivation.”
Co-Head Coach Karen Weekly
Senior Kelly Grieve
Junior Shelby Burchell
Freshman Ellen Renfroe
Sophomore Ivy Renfroe
Junior Jessica Spigner