“Well, we said last night we weren’t done yet,” Tennessee Coach Ralph Weekly said Saturday after the Lady Vols won two games to stay in the Knoxville Regional.
“These girls have a lot of resolve, and a lot of ability, and a lot of talent, and they came out today determined, and we had a plan to go against both pitchers, and they stayed within that plan, which is the key to winning at this juncture of a season.
“I thought both of our opponents played well and deserve a lot of credit, but I think you saw Tennessee Softball today.”
The hitters were much more patient Saturday – compared to Friday when the Lady Vols were defeated 1-0 by Miami and got tossed into the loser’s bracket after the opening regional game for the first time in the Weekly tenure – and the result was wins over UAB ((37-22) and Miami (41-20) with matching 8-0 scores that ended the season for the Blazers and RedHawks.
Tennessee (48-11) will next face Virginia Tech (42-19), which has cruised through the regional with a 4-1 win over UAB on Friday and a 6-0 win over Miami on Saturday.
“I just told the girls, that this is easily one of the most complete games we’ve played in the postseason ever that I can think of,” Virginia Tech Coach Scot Thomas said after Saturday’s victory. “We did the little things good, we were patient at the plate against a really solid team that was pumped up after a big win last night (over Tennessee) so hats off to them.
“I thought that we stayed with it, we got things done late and was able to put them away a little bit.”
Miami mounted a late charge, but it was snuffed out by center fielder Lauren Gaskill, who made a diving catch on a ball dropping well in front of her. Gaskill injured her left hand on the play but stayed in the game.
“I hurt my wrist and my thumb,” Gaskill said. “I got kind of scared because I injured it a year-and-a-half ago; I broke my wrist on a similar incident.
“I think I’m just going to ice it tonight. Really, right now it’s
just my thumb, so I’ll just have to wait and see how it feels tomorrow.”
Gaskill got some warm-up tosses and catches after being examined by a trainer and batted later in the game.
“That was huge for us,” Thomas said. “That was a big catch. I think anytime you have a big play like that, then you can kind of follow that back up.
“We were able to continue to score after that, using it as a momentum builder to get the outs and then come back in and get our at-bats and so that was a huge, huge catch.”
Virginia Tech pitcher Jasmin Harrell welcomed the win and the short work day as temperatures climbed well into the 80s at Lee Softball Stadium.
“I really like that we got two wins, especially because I know that going into the loser’s bracket there are a lot of games that you have to play in,” Harrell said. “It’s easy going into tomorrow with less games to play through.”
The Hokies’ wins came on consecutive days. Tennessee had to get two victories Saturday or pack up and go home for the season.
The first opponent was UAB, and the Lady Vols got on the scoreboard first with a two-out RBI single from Ashley Andrews that brought home Melissa Brown, who had walked on four pitches and moved to second on a single by Shelby Burchell.
Weekly had dropped the senior Burchell to the seventh spot in the batting order, and she responded with a 3-3 performance at the plate with an RBI and two runs scored.
“To be very honest with you, I thought it would motivate Shelby a little to drop her down a couple spots in the batting order,” said Weekly, who had a morning workout with the designated player at the baseball field.
“I didn't think it would motivate her that much, but I was happy to see what she did.”
Ellen Renfroe had control issues in the bottom of the second inning – Tennessee was the visiting team in both games Saturday, once by rotation, another by coin toss – and the defense twice stiffened behind her with a force-out at third with two on and then a diving catch by Lauren Gibson.
But when Renfroe issued her second walk of the inning to load the bases, Weekly immediately brought in Ivy Renfroe, who got a pop-up to the catcher to end the inning.
Tennessee added another run in the third inning when Raven Chavanne reached on a slap single and swiped second, the 100th career stolen base for the junior third baseman. Madison Shipman doubled to left-center to bring home Chavanne for a 2-0 lead.
Ivy Renfroe got a ground-out and a pop-up to start the third inning for Miami and then Kayla Orr lined a shot into right-center field. Tory Lewis shot across the grass and made a fully-extended catch to end the inning to a sustained roar from the crowd of 1,627 at Lee Softball Stadium.
“Absolutely, as a fellow outfielder, it was an outstanding play,” Orr said when asked if she could appreciate the catch.
“She keeps coming up with those kinds of catches,” Weekly said. “She’s had a ton of them. She’s a magnificent center fielder, no question.”
When asked when she was certain she could make the catch, Lewis said, “When I felt it in my glove. You gotta track them and sometimes you get right on them and when I felt the ball in my glove it was like, ‘Oh, I caught it – yes!’ ”
The Lady Vols put two across the plate in the fourth inning with Burchell starting the offensive punch with a double to left center. She moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Ashley Andrews, and Chavanne walked and stole second.
Dotson bounced a ball to first, but no one was on the bag and as two infielders raced to the bag and then convened at first – Dotson was safe – Chavanne raced home from second behind Burchell for a 4-0 lead.
The Lady Vols added four more runs in the fifth inning – the scoring came with two out – in an outing that was so long it sent Renfroe to the bullpen to stay warm before she pitched the bottom half.
Lauren Gibson singled after Madison Shipman grounded out and reached second on a sacrifice bunt by Holly Baker. Brown singled to left-center to bring home Gibson and moved to second on the throw. Burchell singled up the middle to bring home Brown.
Andrews walked and then pinch hitter Hannah Akamine was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Chavanne singled up the middle to bring home Andrews and Burchell for an 8-0 lead.
Renfroe got a fly-out to left in between two strikeouts to end the game.
UAB used three pitchers in the game and all three surrendered hits to Tennessee.
“You know they’re going to bounce back from a game like they had (Friday) night where they hit the ball but just didn’t produce any runs,” UAB Coach Marla Townsend said. “That’s why we had all our pitchers ready to go. They just did a great job of adjusting to our pitchers and putting the ball in play.
“We had to finish with two outs. A majority of their runs were scored with two outs. It just shows a lot of heart from the Tennessee team.”
That set up a rematch with Miami, which had handed the Lady Vols their first loss in a regional opener since 1999 prior to the arrival of the Weeklys.
Ellen Renfroe returned to the circle and retired the RedHawks with a popup and groundout to short and then a strikeout, which brought a high-five from Co-Head Coach Karen Weekly as Renfroe left the field.
But the control issues popped up in the second inning and after two walks, Ralph Weekly summoned the big sister for the second time Saturday. Ivy Renfroe got two strikeouts to end the threat.
“Ivy was hot against those guys and at the time I made the change, if you recall, there had been two walks and we had gone nine innings without scoring against them, and I just didn’t want to chance it, and that’s why Ivy went in,” Ralph Weekly said.
“But I don’t think – and you can ask their teammates – I don’t think that our team cares which one of them is in there, because they’re both so good and so dedicated.”
The players on the dais nodded in agreement, likely as much for Ellen Renfroe’s confidence as an endorsement of the sophomore pitcher, because Tennessee will need both Renfroe sisters on Sunday.
Ellen Renfroe has picked up Ivy Renfroe at times this season, and the big sister said the younger sister knows what to do.
“She’ll be fine,” Ivy Renfroe said. “She’ll work her way out of things and go right at them, and she’ll be fine. It’ll be good.”
After seven scoreless innings against Miami on Friday and two to start Saturday’s game, Tennessee finally got on the scoreboard against the RedHawks in the third inning with its speed game.
Andrews reached on a bunt to the pitcher and moved to third on a double to right-center by Lewis, who slammed on the brakes at second because Andrews had to hold up initially to see if the ball was caught and had to stop at third.
Chavanne chopped a ball to the infield, and Andrews was out in a close play at home that brought the diminutive catcher to her feet in protest over the call. After Dotson popped up, it looked like Tennessee was going to squander its best scoring chance, but Lewis darted home on a wild pitch that didn’t get far from the catcher and slid safely across the plate.
“You’ve always got to be aggressive when you’re on third base as a person with speed,” Lewis said. “You’ve always got to be thinking that if there’s a passed ball and we don’t have any runs, you have to take advantage of every opportunity.
“So right when it happened I was already thinking, ‘Passed ball, passed ball, passed ball. Oh! A passed ball. Go!' At that point it was just instinct.”
Miami tried to answer in its half of the third when Kirstie Fehrenbach chopped a ball in front of the mound that was fielded by Ivy Renfroe. But the pitcher collided with a charging Chavanne and couldn’t make the throw. Prior to that single, Renfroe had retired 32 straight batters over two days.
Jordan McElroy followed with a sharp single to the outfield to put two on base, but the Lady Vols got out of the inning when Gibson caught a soft liner and flipped the ball to Shipman for the double play.
Renfroe saluted her defense after the game.
“It definitely takes pressure off of you, in that you don’t have to press or anything, you can just rely on them,” Renfroe said.
Tennessee added two more runs – one each in the fourth and fifth innings – after Gibson lofted a high ball to left field that looked like a routine fly-out. But the left fielder misplayed the ball, and Gibson, who had sprinted out of the box, easily made it to third on the error. She scored on a single to center by Burchell for a 2-0 lead.
The Lady Vols made it 3-0 in the fifth after Dotson singled to the shortstop. She took off for second, but the catcher’s throw was wide of the base, and she made it to third. Shipman singled through the left side of the infield and when she took off for second, that caused the second baseman to head toward the bag on the steal attempt.
But Gibson hit a grounder to the right side, so the second baseman had to reverse course and could only knock down the ball. That allowed Dotson to score.
Tennessee exploded in the sixth inning with five runs that started when Melissa Davin singled to left center and Whitney Hammond entered as a pinch runner. Andrews moved her to second on a sacrifice bunt, and Lewis popped up for the second out, but the Lady Vols, as in the first game of the day, attacked with two outs.
Chavanne singled through the right side to bring home Hammond for a 4-0 lead, and Dotson singled to center. Shipman hit a grounder, and Miami tried to force Dotson at second, but she was safe. The infielders held the ball, and Chavanne never stopped, scoring from second for a 5-0 lead.
Gibson singled through the right side to bring home Dotson for a 6-0 lead, and Brown ripped a ball to left-center to bring home Shipman and Gibson for the final 8-0 score.
Renfroe got a popup out to start the sixth inning, and then allowed a single by Daniela Torres. But the next batter, Kayla Ledbetter, who thought she had fouled a pitch off her foot, didn’t run, and Tennessee fielded the ball and threw to second, where Torres was safe. Karen Weekly shouted from the dugout to throw to first, which Gibson did, and the batter was called out.
Allie Larrabee grounded to third to end the game, and the Lady Vols had secured the second win of the day and a spot in Sunday’s play.
Tennessee will have to twice beat the Hokies to defend its home regional. The winner advances to the Super Regional, and Tennessee is set to host if it can somehow knock off Virginia Tech twice. The first game is set for 1:30 p.m. with a second game, if necessary, at 4 p.m.
“It’s extremely difficult, and Virginia Tech is a great team and they’re well coached,” Ralph Weekly said. “We’ve known their coaching staff for years and there’s a lot of respect between both coaching staffs, and they execute and do a lot of things really well and it’s going to be difficult, but at least we’ve put ourselves in a position to try to do it.
“Our motivation is to go to the Super Regional.”
PRESS CONFERENCE QUOTES
Click on the school names below to read the transcripts from Saturday’s post-game press conferences.
Virginia Tech-Miami (Ohio)
INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE
Tennessee Coach Ralph Weekly, Ivy Renfroe, Tory Lewis, Madison Shipman
Miami Coach Kelly Kovach Shoenly, Daniela Torres, Jordan McElroy, Jessica Simpson, Kirstie Fehrenbach
GAME HIGHLIGHTS FROM UTSPORTSTV