No. 6/7 Tennessee improved its record to 41-9 overall, and Ivy Renfroe is now 16-6 on the season with 11 straight wins in the circle.
“I attribute it to her work ethic and desire,” Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. “She wants to be the best.”
Weekly recalled after the game that one of the directives from Athletics Director Joan Cronan when she hired the Weeklys 11 years ago was to “close the borders” as in-state schools had been routinely beating Tennessee.
The Weeklys have indeed done that as the Lady Vols have now won 75 consecutive games against opponents from the Volunteer State, a streak that began March 22, 2000.
Wednesday’s game against Tennessee State (11-35) was intended to be a double-header, but a nearly one-hour rain delay helped lead to the decision to play one and call it a night.
Tennessee is about to enter its exam period so the players are busy finishing up papers and preparing for tests, and Tennessee State had mechanical issues with its bus and arrived in town just an hour before the game. A replacement bus got the team to the stadium and then back to Nashville.
Renfroe allowed just two hits – the second one glanced off the glove of the first baseman – walked one and struck out 10 in seven innings of work.
Lauren Gibson and Shelby Burchell each drove in a pair of runs to lead the Lady Vols. Melissa Brown also recorded an RBI.
The game began shortly after 5 p.m. and was delayed after the top of the fourth inning because of rain and lightning with Tennessee leading 2-0.
Those runs came in the first inning with Raven Chavanne leading off with a bunt single and then a steal of second. A sacrifice bunt by Kat Dotson sent Chavanne to third. Madison Shipman walked and stole second and then Gibson brought them both home with a single up the middle.
Tennessee tallied three runs in the fifth inning with Chavanne, once again, leading the way with an infield single and stolen base. Dotson singled to centerfield to put runners on the corners. Dotson stole second, and Gibson walked to load the bases.
Burchell singled up the middle to bring home Chavanne and Dotson for a 4-0 lead. Melissa Brown also singled up the middle to send Gibson’s across the plate with the game’s fifth run.
“I was proud of them tonight,” Weekly said. “I thought we had a lot of energy.”
The Lady Vols left nine on base, which can be a sore spot with Weekly, but he noted a number of shots that went right at fielders, including two by Melissa Davin, whose liner up the middle knocked the glove off the pitcher’s hand, but the ball stayed in it, and Davin was thrown out at first.
“I think the difference tonight is we hit the ball hard,” Weekly said.
Practice of late has included less team workouts and more one-on-one instruction.
“Two players, three coaches,” Weekly said. “It’s making a long day on us, but we’re really working on the short game. We’re really working on the RBI game.
“We spent six hours out here (Tuesday) just working 45-minute sessions with two or three players.”
It’s a necessary strategy as Tennessee has speedsters but not much long ball power. Davin flashed it last weekend at South Carolina and if she can get on track, the Lady Vols will be more formidable in postseason.
Davin, Ellen Renfroe, Madison Shipman and Tory Lewis make up a talented sophomore class. It also means the freshmen are having to wait their turn.
“Those are four really good ballplayers and bode well for the future,” Weekly said. “(Hannah) Akamine and (Cheyanne) Tarango are looking fantastic in practice. We’ve got to get them more time, but it’s hard to do it when you’re on a 14-game win streak and your regulars are playing well.”
Tennessee hosts Ole Miss in the final SEC series of the regular season beginning Friday at 6 p.m. with games on Saturday and Sunday at 1 p.m. Eastern.
All three games are advance sell-outs – “I like that,” Weekly said – but the soccer stadium will be opened so fans can watch from the upper row. SportSouth also will broadcast all three games.
The series is important for postseason seeding – Tennessee is currently at No. 4 in RPI – and Weekly said the players are aware of it and already talking among themselves.
“You can’t turn on the TV anymore without seeing softball,” said Weekly, a broadcast trend he likes. “Every time they’re on, they talk about Tennessee’s RPI. Our kids see that.
“I hear them addressing it. They talk about it.”
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