Tennessee (27-8, 9-5) had taken a one-run lead into the seventh inning when Kentucky (16-19, 3-6) tied it on a wild pitch with a runner at third.
But Shelby Burchell, a power hitter seeking her first home run of the season, got it in resounding fashion with a no-doubt shot over the centerfield wall and a 4-2 win.
The long ball was timely, too, as rain had started to fall and erupted into a downpour minutes after the players had left the field. A tie game would have meant another lengthy rain delay – Saturday’s 8-0 win was interrupted by three hours and three minutes – but Burchell’s bat meant the Lady Vols took the series after dropping the opener 5-3 on Friday.
A comeback win also was just what the team needed, according to Co-Head Coach Karen Weekly.
“It was nice to see us come through with that seventh-inning win,” Weekly said. “A couple of our tough losses we’ve been on the receiving end of a seventh inning score by the other team.
“We’ve been on the other end of those more than we’ve been on the joyous end.”
Kentucky got on the scoreboard first in the third inning when Emily Jolly doubled to the gap in right center and Kara Dill brought her home with a double down the right field line that chopped in front of first base with a high hop well over the fielder’s head.
Dill moved to third on a wild pitch and Brittany Cervantes lofted a deep foul ball to left on a 1-2 count with one out that Melissa Davin intentionally allowed to drop to the grass, as Dill would have scored on a tag-up.
The gamble paid off as Cervantes struck out, and Ivy Renfroe got a popup from Rachel Riley to end the inning and leave the Lady Vols down just one.
“It was an easy tag-up,” Renfroe said. “I am glad that it worked out for us. It was a game-changer.”
Tennessee knotted the game in the bottom of the third when Lauren Gibson lined a 1-0 pitch just under the scoreboard with two outs.
Renfroe was relieved by her sister, Ellen Renfroe, in the fifth inning after Ivy Renfroe allowed a single and, after an intentional walk to Dill, the Kentucky threat ended with a fly-out to centerfielder Tory Lewis.
The Lady Vols got on the board again in the fifth inning after Kat Dotson singled up the middle, went to second on Gibson’s single and moved to third on Burchell’s sacrifice bunt. Dotson then scored on a fielding error and the Lady Vols took the 2-1 lead.
Ellen Renfroe got two strikeouts and a groundout in the sixth but allowed a single by Lauren Cumbess to start the seventh. Pinch runner moved to Sarah Frazer made it to third after a sacrifice bunt and then a groundout. She scored on a wild pitch to tie the game at 2-2.
Gibson got on base in the seventh for Tennessee after being hit by a pitch, and Burchell ended Kentucky’s hope of extra innings with her two-run blast.
After a game in which the pitcher got early run support on Saturday, Tennessee kept itself in the game with stellar defense on Sunday.
It began with Madison Shipman fielding a ground ball that knuckled after the bounce after the game’s first pitch and threw a strike for the out at first. Other web gems were a shot up the middle in the third that Gibson fielded, stepped on second for one out and completed the double play with the throw to first; a scoop catch by Dotson in right field in the fifth; and a nice catch of a deep ball in the same inning by Whitney Hammond in left field in the fifth.
Davin had an epic at-bat in the second inning in a 12-pitch battle that included six foul balls. It ended with a strikeout on a rise ball. Davin crushes the ball in practice and needs to transfer that to ballgames.
“She has phenomenal athletic ability,” Weekly said. “Next to Raven (Chavanne), she may be the best athlete on the team. She hits ball over the scoreboard routinely in practice. She can run really, really well.
“It’s just a matter of you can’t think so much when you’re in the box. You’ve got to get up there, see your pitch and drive it. She can’t take too many pitches and get herself in holes.”
Lewis has carved out a spot in the lineup with her ability to get on base and use her speed.
“Tory is very talented, and she has come through with some big games,” Weekly said. “Her defense is phenomenal. Tory gives us stellar defense in center field. The challenge for Tory is to adjust to different types of pitching.”
Burchell, who is noticeably leaner this season, said she has adjusted to not relying on power to be effective. She said her motivation was “to get healthier, and I knew I would be playing more outfield.”
“At the first of the season it was frustrating because I felt that it was my job to come into this team and do that,” Burchell said. “But as we went through the series I took a step back and said, ‘I just need to do my job, have good at-bats, see it and hit it and it will come.’
“Just do what I can for the team. I have really been focused on good at-bats. I am not really focusing on results, just staying focused on our process, what we’ve worked on as a team and what we work on in practice.”
The staff is pleased with how Burchell has adjusted this season.
“If you look at the stats, what you’ll see is lots of walks,” Weekly said.
Burchell has 20 passes to first, second to Gibson’s 29.
“Her on-base percentage (.439) is really up there, so she’s brought a lot to the team in that respect,” Weekly said. “She has played a solid outfield for us. She has been through these wars.
“She does a good job of understanding what pitches to swing at and which ones to take. You always feel like you’ve got a shot whenever Shelby comes up.”
The Lady Vols will next take the field on Wednesday for a doubleheader against Georgia at Lee Softball Stadium. Play begins at 5 p.m. Eastern, and CSS has the telecast.
INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE
Ivy and Ellen Renfroe