No. 5 Tennessee improved its record to 45-9 while No. 8 Louisville sustained just its third loss on the season and is now 47-3.
The Lady Vols scored in four of their six innings, tallied 10 hits by 10 different players and wiped out the Cardinals, 8-1.
“That’s one of the best wins we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. “They’ve beaten Michigan, and they’ve beaten a ranked South Florida team and they are a really strong team.
“We just jumped on them early and when your leadoff hitter hits a home run and then you pick up four runs real quick, it kind of takes the sail out of their wings.
“I was really proud of our kids because they told me before the game they knew Raven wasn’t playing – and Raven is the national player of the week right now – and they said, ‘We’re going to pick up the slack, and we’re going to get it done, and we’re going to take the challenge.
“They came out fired up, and they played really well. I want to stress Louisville is a good team. They are deserving of a top 10 ranking. We just played really well. We make a couple of misplays, but those were plays of aggression.”
Ivy Renfroe got her 14th consecutive win and raised her record to 19-6. Renfroe worked efficiently – she walked just one batter in seven innings – and allowed just two hits and one run. She also struck out five and got better as the game went on Wednesday. Her era is now 1.99.
Some 1,511 fans showed up for a mid-week game – short of capacity but a nearly full house – and the final game of the regular season. Among those in attendance was Vols basketball coach Cuonzo Martin.
Raven Chavanne, who was hit in the head last Sunday during a collision at first base, had concussion-like symptoms and was held out of Wednesday’s game. She was in the dugout with the team but not in uniform.
Lauren Gibson moved to the leadoff spot, Ashley Andrews donned her fielder’s glove and slid to third base, and Hannah Akamine got the assignment behind the plate.
That was the lineup in place Feb. 11 when Tennessee played Arizona State when Chavanne was out with a thumb injury – a 3-0 win for the Lady Vols – and it worked just as well at the end of the season.
“Early in the season we beat the defending national champions at Arizona State with this lineup,” Weekly said. “We were prepared for this.”
Akamine, a freshman, handled her assignment well and got an excellent grade after the game from Renfroe and Weekly.
“She is an excellent catcher, and I give her an ‘A,’ ” Weekly said.
Gibson opened the game with a high fly ball that cleared the centerfield fence for a 1-0 Tennessee lead and her team-leading 13th home run of the season.
Louisville tied it in the second inning after Renfroe plunked Alicja Wolny in the helmet with her first pitch of the inning. Wolny moved to second on a groundout to Renfroe by Taner Fowler, and Maggie Ruckenbrod hit a single up the middle that brought home Wolny.
Louisville changed pitchers in the third inning – Tori Collins went two innings with two hits, a walk and a strikeout – and Ashley Andrews greeted Chelsea Leonard with an infield single.
Andrews moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Tory Lewis, and Gibson reached on an error. Kat Dotson dropped a ball in front of the leftfielder to bring home Andrews and used her speed to get to second. Madison Shipman singled through the infield to bring home Gibson, and then Shelby Burchell doubled off the rightfield wall, which allowed Dotson and Shipman to score for a 5-1 lead.
Leonard was done after one inning and took the loss for an 8-1 record. She was replaced in the circle in the fourth inning by Caralisa Connell, who pitched the final three frames.
Tennessee scored twice in the fifth inning. Holly Baker drew a walk and Melissa Brown reached on a grounder when the throw to second sailed into centerfield, allowing both runners to move up a base.
Akamine singled through the inning to bring home both Baker and Brown for a 7-1 lead, and she advanced to third when the ball rolled to the wall. After a groundout, the Lady Vols loaded the bases on back-to-back walks to Cheyanne Tarango and Lauren Gibson, but a strikeout ended the threat.
Louisville threatened in the sixth inning after Renfroe had retired 10 straight batters. Whitney Arion drew a leadoff walk – Renfroe’s only free pass of the game – and she moved to second after a pitch in the dirt. Jennifer Esteban singled up the middle, but Lewis fielded the roller, came up firing and erased Arion at the plate.
The Lady Vols added one more run in the sixth inning after Baker singled with two out and Brown doubled to rightfield to bring home Baker for an 8-1 lead.
Renfroe worked quickly in the seventh inning and retired the Cardinals with a groundout and a lineout to Andrews at third and a fly-out to Lewis in center.
Renfroe’s efficiency in the circle had the added benefit of keeping the entire team focused and engaged.
“I wanted Ivy to go the distance because we’re still working on a couple of things with Ellen (Renfroe) and both Ellen and Raven will be ready to go full bore at the SEC Tournament (next week).”
After the game, Weekly told the players that they were off until late Sunday afternoon, an announcement that made them as happy as the win. Final exams are this week, and the time off means the focus shifts solely to academics.
While the players will get some much-deserved rest, the Weeklys will head out on the recruiting trail.
“We are going recruiting Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but the girls are off until Sunday at 4 o’clock, and they are really happy,” Weekly said.
Weekly was really pleased with the way the team closed out the regular season.
“I hope it puts us in a good position to get a really good seed,” Weekly said.
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