The Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (38-9, 17-6) won its season-best 11th-straight game in an 8-0 triumph over South Carolina (23-24, 3-17) in five innings.
Melissa Davin led the Big Orange offense by going a perfect 3-for-3 at the dish with a pair of solo HRs, her fourth and fifth big flies of the year, and four RBIs.
Sophomore center fielder Tory Lewis was 1-for-2 with her third triple of 2012 and a RBI, junior second baseman Lauren Gibson was 1-for-2 with a walk and junior first baseman Melissa Brown was credited with a RBI via a bases-loaded walk.
In improving to 24-3 on the year and 11-3 in SEC action from the circle, Ellen Renfroe allowed three hits, walked two and struck out three over 5.0 frames of work. For the Jackson, Tenn., native the effort marked her 21st complete game and NCAA Division I-leading 15th solo shutout.
“We told our kids that our theme today was to play our own best self,” Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. “We needed to play as well as we could, because we know how good South Carolina is. We don’t pay attention to records. We know that they are a very good hitting team.
"Their hitting stats were third in the league coming into this weekend, and they came out tonight ready to go. We just wanted our kids to come out and play Tennessee softball.
"As for Melissa, we’ve been watching her every day in practice, and she’s been going along strong. We recruited her to be a big-time player at Tennessee, and I’m just really happy for Melissa, because she’s been working really hard.”
The Big Orange wasted no time jumping in front on the scoreboard, plating a tally in the top of the first against South Carolina starter Audrey Broyles.
Junior right fielder Kat Dotson got it started by drawing a one-out walk, advancing into scoring position with two retired in the frame via her eighth stolen base of the season. With runners stationed at the corners following a Gibson base knock through the infield, the Lady Vols managed a 1-0 lead as Dotson managed a swipe of home.
The Gamecocks tried to answer right back in the bottom half of the first as shortstop Samie Garcia got USC off to a solid start with a lead-off single to left. Following a perfect sacrifice bunt, left fielder Kaitlin Westfall beat out an infield single to deep short, putting runners at first and second with just one down.
Second baseman Dana Hathorn hit a shot to third that was corralled on the bounce by junior third baseman Raven Chavanne. The Thousand Oaks, Calif., native turned and stepped on third for the force before tossing across to Brown for a 5-3, inning-ending double play.
Davin utilized the long ball in boosting the Big Orange advantage to a pair of runs during the top of the second. With one down the Fresno, Calif., product blasted a towering solo HR out of Beckham Field, her fourth big fly of the year, as Tennessee’s lead expanded to 2-0.
In the circle Renfroe began settling into the contest, retiring six of seven Gamecock hitters she faced over the second and third innings. The 6-0 right hander even registered consecutive strikeouts of catcher Shelby Gonzales and first baseman Olivia Lawrence spanning the two frames.
South Carolina got its lead-off hitter on for the second time in the contest, starting the bottom of the fourth, as Westfall ripped a two-bagger into the left center field gap. Renfroe responded to the hit by catching Hathorn swinging for the UT hurler’s third K of the match-up.
She finished off the USC threat by inducing a chopper to third by right fielder Chelsea Hawkins and by personally handling a bouncer back to the circle from designated player Kaela Jackson as the lead-off double went for naught.
For the second time this season, after turning the feat back on Feb. 12 against Western Michigan in Tempe, Ariz., Davin made it two HR’s in a single contest by driving another solo shot out of Beckham Field off Broyles to make it 3-0 in the top of the fifth.
A free pass issued to senior catcher Ashley Andrews and the Tumwater, Wash., product’s sixth steal of the season placed a runner in scoring position. That set the stage for Lewis’ third triple of the year on a shot to the wall as Andrews scored easily from second, improving the UT advantage to 4-0 with still none out. After a Chavanne walk, Lewis managed another Lady Vol swipe of home to make it a five-run lead.
With one down and the UT speedster at third after a ground ball off the bat of Dotson, the decision was made to intentionally walk both Shipman and Gibson to pack the bases.
Despite getting a K for the second out of the frame, the move soon backfired on USC as Brown managed a free pass to force in a run, and then Davin ripped a two-RBI single through the infield as the advantage expanded to 8-0. A pop-up to short finally brought an end to the inning but not before Tennessee had totaled six runs while sending 11 batters to the plate.
Suddenly down to its final chance to avoid the run-rule in the bottom of the fifth, third baseman Evan Childs managed to grant the Gamecocks some brief life with a lead-off walk. Gonzales hit a shot right to Shipman at short, however, and the 6-1 native of Valencia, Calif., began a 6-4-3 double play for two quick outs.
A liner off the bat of S.C.’s Lawrence finished the contest off as the Big Orange the victory.
Game two in the series is Saturday at 4 p.m. Eastern.