Tennessee (39-9, 18-6) tallied the victory over South Carolina (23-25, 3-18) on Saturday afternoon in front of the largest Beckham Field crowd since 2003 at 928.
In the circle junior starter Ivy Renfroe won her 10th consecutive decision, improving to 15-6 overall, allowing two runs on nine hits with two walks and five strikeouts over 6.1 innings of work.
Sophomore Ellen Renfroe earned her fourth save of the year by tossing two-thirds of a frame of perfect relief.
Raven Chavanne led the Lady Vol offense with a 2-for-4, two-RBI effort, reaching base safely for a career-best 28th consecutive game. The Thousand Oaks, Calif., native also registered her team-leading 18th multi-hit effort with the pair of base knocks off South Carolina starter Katelynn Howser.
Madison Shipman was 1-for-2 at the plate with a pair of RBIs, improving the Valencia, Calif., product’s league-leading RBI totals to 54 (counting all games) and 30 (counting league games only).
Junior right fielder Kat Dotson was 2-for-4 and is now hitting a robust .406 overall since the second game of a doubleheader against #1 Alabama back on March 21, a span of 22 games.
“We started slow, and South Carolina started hot by hitting everything we threw up there,” Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. “Our kids refused to quit after we got down. The turning point was the bottom of the fifth when they got two base runners in scoring position.
"Ivy got a pair of strikeouts to end the threat, and then we were able to score a couple of runs in the sixth to tie it up. We fought back, and in the end, it was a great win for Lady Vol softball.”
After Tennessee left a runner stranded in the top of the first following a two-out walk by Shipman, the Gamecocks managed their own scoring threat in the bottom half.
Center fielder Lauren Lackey registered S.C.’s initial base hit on a one-out single through the middle of the infield. The Lady Vols got some good fortune as left fielder Kaitlin Westfall ripped a shot between first and second, but the ball hit the Gamecock base runner for an automatic out. Second baseman Dana Hathorn grounded out to third as Chavanne corralled the ball and fired across the diamond to conclude the frame with no damage done.
With South Carolina’s Howser keeping the UT offense under wraps from the circle, the Gamecocks managed another base occupant with one out in the bottom of the second as designated player Kaela Jackson walked.
The Big Orange defense took over from there, however, as a sharp bouncer back to the circle was handled personally by Ivy Renfroe. The 6-0 right-hander turned quickly and tossed to Shipman covering second, who completed the 1-6-3 twin-killing to junior Melissa Brown at first for Tennessee’s third double play over the first two games in the series.
The Garnet & Black threatened again in the bottom of the third with two down as shortstop Samie Garcia got the outburst started with a single through the left side of the infield.
After a wild pitch Lackey reached via an infield single, putting runners at the corners. That set the stage for a bloop double off the bat of Westfall that landed just on the chalk down the left field line, allowing Garcia to trot home and make it 1-0 S.C. Hathorn followed with a single back through the middle of UT’s infield as Lackey crossed from 60 feet away for a 2-0 advantage.
Dotson managed Tennessee’s initial hit of the match-up on a perfectly-executed bunt single to open the top of the fourth. Unfortunately, a fly ball to shallow right, a caught stealing at second and a routine chopper to first brought a quick end to the once promising half-inning.
An infield base knock from Lackey christening the bottom of the fifth got another South Carolina threat started. Following a perfect sacrifice bunt, Hathorn hit a shot back to the circle for a fielder’s choice.
Unfortunately, a toss to third attempting to retire the lead runner was low for an error, allowing the Garnet & Black to boast two in scoring position with still just one out. Ivy Renfroe continued to battle from the circle, however, striking out right fielder Chelsea Hawkins for a vital second retirement.
Jackson stepped into the batter’s box and quickly got ahead of UT’s hurler 3-0, but Renfroe rebounded for her second consecutive strikeout and fourth of the contest as S.C. left two stranded in scoring position.
With time beginning to run short for Tennessee to rally from the two-run deficit, the Lady Vol speed game started a vital threat in the top of the sixth. Sophomore center fielder Tory Lewis managed a one-out walk and was soon joined on the bases via consecutive bunt singles by both Chavanne and Dotson, loading the bags full of Big Orange. That set the stage for a clutch two-RBI single through the infield off the bat of Shipman as UT dead-locked the contest at 2-2.
Brown tried to push the Big Orange in front to open the top of the seventh by blasting a promising drive deep into the outfield. It looked as if the Valencia, Calif., native’s shot would likely have hit off the fencing, but Westfall raced over and made an amazing catch while colliding with the wall for the first out. Lady Vol defensive replacement senior Holly Baker was allowed to hit in a big spot and delivered for the Lady Vols, drawing a walk off Howser that began the crucial scoring rally.
The Broadway, Va., native swiped second and was soon joined on the base paths as Andrews walked and freshman pinch hitter Cheyanne Tarango was struck by a pitch. With the bags packed Chavanne delivered in the clutch, blooping a single just over the South Carolina infield for a pair of RBIs as the Big Orange finally corralled the lead at 4-2.
Down to the final opportunity to extend or perhaps even win the contest in the bottom of the seventh, the Gamecocks got some immediate life as Westfall beat out an infield single to second with one down. Hathorn was struck by a pitch as the decision was made to summon in Ellen Renfroe from the bullpen to face a save situation.
After falling behind in the count 3-0 to Hawkins, the 6-0 righty battled back full before the hitter ripped a shot to third. Chavanne knocked it down, recovered and fired a strike to first for a big second out as Gamecock runners advanced to second and third.
With the potential tying run standing in scoring position, Jackson lifted a pop-up that was tracked down by Shipman near the outfield grass at short to end the thrilling comeback win.
The series concludes Sunday with game time at 1 p.m. Eastern.