Tennessee got the start it wanted in the matchup with LSU and improved its overall record to 33-9 and 14-6 in the SEC. But the Lady Vols still have a vexing issue to fix – the LOBs, or runners left on base.
Against LSU (29-11, 11-4) on Friday, Tennessee left 11 players stranded. Ellen Renfroe pitched a gem – a three-hit shutout with five strikeouts – so the abandoned base-runners didn’t affect the outcome, but Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly fretted that it eventually will when it really matters.
“I was really proud of our work ethic and our desire,” Weekly said. “I thought our pitching was exceptional and our defense remained very, very good.
“I was disappointed that we left 11 runners in scoring position. I told our team that is what catches up with you in playoffs. We need to be better. They agree we need to be better, and I hope we’re going to hit the ball better (Saturday).”
Game two in the series is at noon Saturday. The series concludes Sunday at 4 p.m., and both games are on ESPN. More than 1,500 were in attendance Friday, and capacity crowds are expected for the weekend, too.
Madison Shipman got Tennessee on the board with a solo shot to left field in the second inning after swinging at the first pitch. She had been at the plate in the first inning, but Lauren Gibson was caught stealing, so Shipman opened the second inning with the liner over the wall.
Tennessee used its speed to manufacture a run in the fifth inning when Raven Chavanne, who was 3-4 for the game, and Kat Dotson reached on infield singles.
Gibson sent a long ball to center and when the throw went in the direction of third base with no chance to catch the speedy Chavanne on a tag-up, Dotson alertly bolted for second on a tag-up.
Shipman then drew a walk to load the bases. Cheyanne Tarango struck out for the second out and then Shelby Burchell drew a walk to bring in the second run for Tennessee. The inning ended on a pop-out by Melissa Brown to shortstop.
Renfroe helped herself and got a defensive gem from Shipman in the sixth inning.
LSU’s leadoff hitter, A.J. Andrews hit a high chopper to short, and Shipman had no chance to throw her out at first. Andrews then used her speed to swipe second.
Renfroe, facing the second and third hitters in the lineup in Jacee Blades and Ashley Langoni, who has six homers to lead LSU this season, struck out both looking.
LSU shortstop Juliana Santos then smoked a ball up the middle that looked as if it was headed for centerfield. But Shipman made a diving stop – snagging the ball on the hop – rolled over and then threw from her knees to get Santos by a half step and save a run.
That touched off a celebration led by Renfroe, who appreciated the defense behind her.
Tennessee would load the bases again in the sixth inning that started with catcher Ashley Andrews, who was flattened last weekend at Auburn in a home plate collision that required a stretcher to remove her from the field, getting hit by a pitch.
The pitch sailed in and up on Andrews, who got her arms up to avoid being hit in the face with the ball. She was bruised but OK after the game.
Tory Lewis reached on a fielder’s choice – Andrews was out at second – Chavanne singled to the pitcher, and Dotson was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Gibson smoked a line drive but it was right to shortstop and then Shipman got under a pitch and flied out to shallow left field.
That totaled six stranded runners in consecutive innings.
“I am pleased with the whole team,” Weekly said. “I am just disappointed with us not executing with runners in scoring position.
“Ellen was fantastic, and LSU is a very good team.”
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