No. 7 Tennessee improved to 40-9 overall and 19-6 in the SEC with the 6-3 series sweep over South Carolina (23-26, 3-19) at Beckham Field.
The victory streak is the longest for the Big Orange since winning 13 consecutive contests from April 3-22, 2011, and also marked UT’s 24th-straight triumph over the Gamecocks.
The Lady Vols also reached the 40-win mark for the 10th consecutive season dating back to a 45-25 record in 2003.
Senior catcher Ashley Andrews led Tennessee’s 14-hit offensive assault, posting a career-high-tying three hits in four at-bats with her first HR of 2012 and the career-best four RBIs.
Senior designated player Shelby Burchell was one of five Lady Vols with at least two hits in the matchup, going 2-for-4 with her third HR of the year, two runs scored and a pair of RBIs.
Junior third baseman Raven Chavanne was 2-for-4, junior second baseman Lauren Gibson was 2-for-4 with her sixth double of the season and junior first baseman Melissa Brown was 2-for-3 with her ninth two-bagger of 2012.
In the circle sophomore Ellen Renfroe improved to 25-3 overall and 12-3 in SEC action, allowing three runs on seven hits with two walks and seven strikeouts over 5.1 innings of work as the starter.
Junior pitcher Ivy Renfroe walked one and erased by strikeout a pair in 1.2 frames of relief, earning her second save of the year and 10th of her career.
“I’m really proud of our kids for sweeping three-straight SEC series, two of those on the road,” Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. “That’s a great accomplishment in a very tough league.
"Karen (Co-Head Coach Weekly) and I are especially proud of Ashley Andrews, who keyed our offense today with a career-high four RBIs. The SEC is a great league from top-to-bottom, and each week brings a different challenge from a very tough softball team.”
After Tennessee left sophomore shortstop Madison Shipman stranded following a two-out walk in the top of the first, Ellen Renfroe wasted no time exerting her influence on the proceedings in the bottom half.
The 6-0 right hander opened the frame with consecutive strikeouts of shortstop Samie Garcia and center fielder Lauren Lackey before inducing a routine grounder to second from left fielder Kaitlin Westfall.
Burchell got a Big Orange offensive threat started in the top of the second with a lead-off base knock. Following a perfect sacrifice bunt off the bat of Brown, sophomore left fielder Melissa Davin continued her impressive weekend with an infield single that placed Lady Vol runners at the corners.
With Davin in scoring position following her fourth steal of the year, Andrews delivered a clutch, two-RBI single through the infield to grant Tennessee an early 2-0 advantage. Chavanne managed a walk with two retired as junior right fielder Kat Dotson stepped into the batter’s box.
The Savannah, Ga., native ripped a promising liner right back to the circle, but on almost a protective stab, S.C. starter Audrey Broyles made the catch to end the frame.
Just as the teams were preparing to begin the bottom of the second inning, rain began to fall on Beckham Field, necessitating a 46-minute delay that started at 1:34 p.m. ET.
Once play resumed starting the bottom of the second, right fielder Chelsea Hawkins delivered South Carolina’s first hit of the match-up with a one-out single that dropped into left center. Third baseman Evan Childs immediately followed with a walk, putting a pair of Gamecock runners aboard with still just one retired.
Ellen Renfroe started to settle back into the circle following the rain delay, getting her third strikeout of the game by catching designated player Kaela Jackson looking at strike three. On a 3-2 offering catcher Shelby Gonzales bounced a ball to third where Chavanne came up with it before firing across to first as South Carolina left the duo stranded.
A one-out Gibson double off the wall got the Lady Vol offense started again in the top of the third. Burchell hit a sharp bouncer right back to the circle that was snagged by Broyles. The hurler turned quickly and managed to track down Gibson between second and third, making the tag personally in what turned out to be a run-saving second out.
That proved the case because Brown followed immediately with her ninth double of the season, advancing Burchell all the way around to third. The South Carolina coaching staff made the decision to walk the hot-hitting Davin intentionally, and the move paid dividends.
Andrews hit a shot down the left field line that was caught on a diving grab in foul ground by Kaitlin Westfall as the Big Orange left three runners stranded.
The Gamecocks attempted to make UT pay for the missed opportunity in the bottom of the third as first baseman Olivia Lawrence christened the inning by being hit by a pitch. With one retired via K, center fielder Lauren Lackey ripped the first pitch she saw into left field, putting a pair of Gamecocks aboard for the middle of the S.C. order.
Ellen Renfroe got a strikeout of Westfall for the second out, but Hathorn laced a shot just inside the third base line and down into the corner for a run-scoring double as South Carolina cut its deficit to 2-1. Hawkins hit a scary little dribbler towards third that Chavanne was forced to charge quickly.
The Thousand Oaks, Calif., native fired a strike to Brown, retiring the runner at first and preventing the tying run from crossing the dish.
The fifth inning has proven to be magic all season long for the Big Orange (57 runs in the frame in 2012), and it proved no different on Sunday as UT registered four runs on six total hits while nine Lady Vol hitters stepped to the plate. The second-straight base knock from Gibson got it all started with one retired, setting the stage for a two-run HR by Burchell to make it 4-1 Tennessee.
The Columbia, Tenn., product’s blast appeared to strike the very top of the wall before bouncing over for her third HR of the campaign. A base hit from Brown ended Broyles’ stint in the circle as Saturday’s South Carolina starter Katelynn Howser entered the circle in relief. After a perfect sac bunt by senior Holly Baker, Andrews continued her amazing afternoon at the plate by hammering her first HR of the year, a two-run blast, out of Beckham Field to expand the lead to 6-1.
With time beginning to run short on chances to climb back into the contest, Hawkins got a sixth-inning Gamecock rally underway by opening the frame with a double into the left center gap. South Carolina’s leading HR hitter Childs quickly cut the S.C. deficit to just 6-3 with a two-run HR over the fence in deep center.
With one down pinch hitter Kristen Struett ripped a base knock back through the middle, ending Ellen Renfroe’s stint in the circle as sister Ivy came into the contest facing a save situation.
The new hurler settled things down immediately, striking out Lawrence before getting a routine groundball off the bat of Garcia to conclude the inning.
After a great play deep in the hole at short by Shipman for the first out of the bottom of the seventh, Westfall drew a walk to give the Gamecocks some brief life. That was all S.C. would get against Ivy Renfroe, however, as Hathorn grounded out to third and Hawkins went down swinging to end the Tennessee sweep.
The Lady Vols are back in action Wednesday at home with a doubleheader against Tennessee State beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern.