Tennessee (35-9, 16-6) started the game against LSU (29-13, 11-6) in a 2-0 hole after a solo homer by Allison Falcon and a two-out RBI single by A.J. Andrews that brought home Ashley Applegate.
“I’m really, really proud of our team,” Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. “Those two pitchers for LSU (Rachele Fico and Brittany Mack) are both fantastic. Our kids just were not going to be denied.
“LSU jumped on us early, and we had our back against the wall. Our kids just fought, fought, fought and clawed back in it, and Ivy (Renfroe) came in and shut them down.”
The score remained unchanged through four innings, and then the Lady Vols unloaded the bats in the bottom of the fifth.
Tory Lewis, who hits in the nine slot – a spot Weekly considers the second leadoff – opened the inning with a double to right center.
Raven Chavanne followed with a grounder to the pitcher, who rushed the throw with the speedster headed down the line, allowing Lewis to score on the error. Kat Dotson then singled to move Chavanne to second, Madison Shipman hit into a fielder’s choice, wiping out Dotson at second, and Lauren Gibson walked to load the bases.
Shelby Burchell doubled to left-center to clear the bases and give the Lady Vols a 4-2 lead. Melissa Brown singled to right, and the outfielder misplayed the ball, allowing it to roll to the wall. That brought Burchell home for a 5-2 lead.
“It was fantastic,” Weekly said of Burchell’s hit to shift the game to Tennessee’s favor. “That’s her forte. She comes up with a big hit in big games.”
Ivy Renfroe, who had relieved her sister, Emily Renfroe, in the fourth inning, got two groundouts and a strikeout to put away the Lady Tigers in order in the sixth inning.
“I just wanted to throw strikes and be aggressive,” Ivy Renfroe said.
Renfroe has excelled in big games, especially when the cameras are focused on the team.
“It might just be honestly God wanting me to be out there to glorify him, to honor him and perform the best that I can,” Renfroe said. “My mindset isn’t different when TV is on. I don’t want to pay attention to that.”
The Lady Vols then put up another five runs in their half of the sixth inning.
Dotson got that one started with a leadoff single to right field. Shipman drove a double to the wall in right center that moved Dotson to third. Gibson hit a sharp grounder that was mishandled by the shortstop, both runners scored to push the lead to 7-2, and Gibson hustled head-first into second.
Burchell flied out and Melissa Brown struck out, but Gibson swiped third. Whitney Hammond doubled down the rightfield line to bring home Gibson for an 8-2 lead. Hammond moved to third on a single by Ashley Andrews, who stole second to get in scoring position.
That brought up Akamine as a pinch hitter. She drove a 1-1 pitch into rightfield to bring home Gibson and Hammond. That pushed the lead to 10-2 and invoked the eight-run run rule to end the game.
Lewis was due up in the spot, but Weekly called her back and sent Akamine to the plate. Karen Weekly advised the freshman from Escondido, Calif., to be patient and wait on the changeup, which had been Mack’s out pitch in the previous inning.
“Akamine is a really good hitter, and I didn’t want to go out there and face those guys again,” Ralph Weekly said. “They are still a very good team. For us to go out there and sweep LSU is just amazing.
“LSU is still a very strong program and a program to deal with. They dealt (No. 2) Alabama a loss last week. Our kids just played exceptional. It was just one of those games where we did a lot of things right.”
The win came before a national audience on ESPN and a stadium-record crowd of 1,845 with an overflow of fans peering through the rightfield fence, perched atop a trailer behind the scoreboard and standing on the top row of the soccer stands.
On Friday, Weekly decried his team’s lack of hits with runners in scoring position. On Sunday, the Lady Vols lashed 13 hits and tallied eight RBIs, led by three from Burchell and two from Akamine.
“I was pleased with the progress we made,” Weekly said. “It shows that the potential is there. We knew that we have as good of pitching as anybody in the country, and we knew we’ve got a top five defense.
“But in this game you’ve got to hit the ball and in the SEC, it’s pitching first, offense second and defense third.”
Dotson was 3-4 at the plate and scored one run. The junior outfielder has dealt with left knee pain but seems to be hitting her stride in the latter part of the 2012 season.
Her speed remains an asset, and she can pull off the trifecta at the plate – bunt, soft slap and power slap. Dotson also can swing away, if need be, and her knee is finally feeling better. She took a rough tumble to beat out a throw to first – she was safe – and popped to her feet unscathed.
“I am trying to get more of my short game in now just because I feel good when I run,” Dotson said. “Being able to run I feel more confident in being able to place the ball where I want it to.
“Early in the year it was hard for me to run down to first base. I’ve rehabbed throughout the year and gotten stronger. I am able to incorporate my speed game and hit away (if needed).”
Tennessee softball has thrived with the speedsters setting the table, but there is wrinkle with Lewis, Chavanne and Dotson.
“Play the speed game and everybody else is trying to drive them in,” Weekly said. “The difference is the 9-1-2 (Lewis, Chavanne, Dotson in the batting order) can also hit away.”
The Lady Vols are back in action Tuesday at 4 p.m. Eastern with a doubleheader against Memphis at Lee Stadium.
“Today was just one day,” Weekly said. “We need to continue getting better.”
INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE