Ivy Renfroe, who pitched 27 innings over three days in five games, didn’t say a lot at the post-game press conference after spending several hours under a scorching sun Sunday at Lee Softball Stadium.
Renfroe compiled a 4-1 record with an 0.52 ERA. She started two games – pitching all seven innings both times – and came in early in relief in three others.
“Absolutely, no question,” junior third baseman Raven Chavanne said when asked if Renfroe was the MVP of the weekend. “She is out there doing her job and we want to back her up, not just offensively but defensively as well.
“When she is pitching her heart out like that, especially going inning after inning and game after game, we want to do everything in our power to make the routine plays.”
Tennessee did just that and added stellar defense, as well – Chavanne opened the day with a diving catch to her right of a line drive in foul territory and ended it with a diving stab to her left in fair territory.
Each game Saturday and Sunday was under elimination circumstances, and Renfroe delivered each time in the circle, including back-to-back wins over Virginia Tech to claim the Knoxville Regional title.
“Throwing strikes and knowing that they were going to make the plays behind me,” Renfroe said when asked to explain her success.
Renfroe has given expansive answers to the media in post-game interviews in the past, but on Sunday her sentences were short, and the junior pitcher looked fatigued.
“You get a little worn down, of course, but you just have to keep going on,” Renfroe said. “You can’t try to be perfect, that is way behind you. It’s just throwing strikes and going after hitters really.”
She perked up when asked about the play of center fielder Tory Lewis, who made a highlight reel catch Saturday diving to her left and tracked down balls both soaring over her head and dropping in front of her Sunday.
“She is such a great centerfielder, oh my goodness,” Renfroe said. “She just makes amazing plays like it is routine for
her. She is awesome.
“It definitely takes pressure off of you having a great defense behind you. You don’t have to rely on making a perfect pitch every time.”
Renfroe made plenty of good pitches as she walked just two batters over five games and struck out 23.
The only thing she did wrong all weekend was think the team meetings were done after the game. She had changed clothes and was chatting with two teammates when Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly yelled into the locker room that everyone was waiting in a nearby conference room.
A startled Renfroe rushed out apologizing, saying “my goodness, I didn’t know!” and even Weekly had to start laughing.
Weekly had just laughed earlier when asked if Renfroe was the MVP of the Knoxville Regional – a chuckle that indicated it wasn’t even close.
“Ivy had to carry a tremendous burden the whole time and did it fantastic,” Weekly said.
That was because her younger sister, Ellen Renfroe, an All-American pitcher who was outstanding this season – Ivy improved her overall record to 23-8; Ellen’s is at 27-3 – was hindered all weekend by control issues.
Weekly had a ultra-fast hook Saturday – Ivy Renfroe relieved in both games early – and he was still quick to make changes Sunday. Ivy Renfroe pitched all seven innings of the first game against Virginia Tech , a 2-1 win, and entered in the third inning in the second game, a 10-2 win.
“I’m not allowed to go into it, but it is a minor fundamental thing,” Weekly said of Ellen Renfroe. “That’s what it is.”
Weekly indicated the issue was mechanical and should be fixed by the Super Regional when Tennessee will host Georgia. Game days and times will be determined soon.
“Georgia knows us and we know them,” Weekly said. “We played up here in a doubleheader and we split. Boy, what a challenge between two great SEC teams with a lot of speed.”
To reach the Super Regional, the Lady Vols first had to beat Virginia Tech twice and make history. Tennessee had never reached a Super Regional after a loss in a regional game.
Tennessee (50-11) started its own regional with a loss on Friday to Miami (Ohio). That was followed by must wins Saturday over UAB and Miami to avoid elimination.
Virginia Tech (42-21) had to win just once Sunday to advance to the Super Regional, while the Lady Vols had to eliminate the third team in its regional with back-to-back wins.
The Lady Vols were the home team in game one and Chavanne snared a liner to her left for the first out and grabbed one to her right to end the inning with the middle out coming from a nice play at shortstop on a sharp one-hopper by Madison Shipman.
Shipman then got Tennessee on the scoreboard in the first inning with a two-out line drive home run that hit the top of the wall in leftfield and caromed out of the stadium.
It was a pitcher’s duel after that between Ivy Renfroe and Virginia Tech’s Jasmin Harrell.
Tennessee used its speed to get an insurance run in the fifth inning when Tory Lewis reached on a perfect drag bunt and moved to second on a single through the infield by Chavanne. Kat Dotson singled to center to bring home Lewis for a 2-0 lead.
That was beneficial for Tennessee because the Hokies scratched out a run in the seventh inning after right fielder Kat Banks singled up the middle and moved to third on a groundout. Logan Spaw lined a shot into center field to bring Banks home and cut the lead to 2-1.
Renfroe struck out the next batter to seal the win, and the fans exploded since it forced the seventh overall game of the regional and the fifth for Tennessee.
After a break for the groundskeepers to redo the field and for the players on both sides to change jerseys and dugouts – the Lady Vols moved to the visitor’s side – the deciding game started with Harrell back in the circle for Virginia Tech.
Tennessee got two runs in the first inning after Kat Dotson deadened the ball a foot off the third base line with a bunt, and Shipman, who had homered in the last game, drew a five-pitch walk.
Shelby Burchell, who batted .500 in the regional with a .750 slugging percentage and four doubles, lined a shot to right-center to bring home Dotson and move Shipman to third.
Weekly called for a suicide squeeze with Lauren Gibson at bat, and Shipman took off for the plate with the pitch. Gibson bunted the ball between third and the pitcher, and Shipman crossed home standing up for a 2-0 lead.
Virginia Tech got one run back in the bottom of the first after Lauren Gaskill reached on a rare fielding error by Chavanne and stole second. She moved to third on a single and scored on a sacrifice to center field – a long fly ball that Lewis tracked down near the warning track.
Both teams were scoreless in the second inning, but the Lady Vols erupted in the third inning.
Shipman started the onslaught with a single to shortstop. Shipman also was 8-16 in the regional for a .500 batting average. The sophomore hit a double, triple and a homer for a .875 slugging percentage over three days. She also walked twice and didn’t strike out.
Shipman scored when Burchell doubled off the wall in center field, and Burchell came home after Gibson singled through the right side and scooted to third on a fielding error by the right fielder. Melissa Davin singled to center with a hard shot right over the pitcher’s head to bring home Gibson for a 5-1 lead and moved to second after Melissa Brown reached on a fielding error by the third baseman.
Both runners moved up a base after a sacrifice bunt by Ashley Andrews, and Davin scored for a 6-1 lead on a groundout by pinch hitter Cheyanne Tarango.
Chavanne, who hit .471 for the regional, doubled to right-center to bring home Brown for a 7-1 lead.
That big inning was too much for Virginia Tech to overcome.
“We had a couple errors, they got a couple of nice hits but we had some opportunities to get out of it and just didn’t play the ball well behind Jasmine,” Virginia Tech Coach Scot Thomas said.
“Later on I would say home-field advantage helped a little bit because they had a really hard infield. You could tell if you watched them water the field, it was on purpose that the infield was hard in front and that happens a lot of places, that’s just not here.
“They got a lot of those big high-hopping infield singles. That played into their speed and it happened a little bit that inning, but other than that we had a pretty solid other 13 innings.”
Virginia Tech got one run back in the third inning after Gaskill singled through the right side. Ellen Renfroe walked Kylie McGoldrick, and Weekly summoned Ivy Renfroe from the bullpen.
Courtney Liddle greeted the older sister with a single up the middle to load the bases with no outs. But Kelsey Mericka popped up to the catcher, and Betty Rose grounded to third – a run scored – for the second out. Kat Banks grounded to third to end the inning and Ivy Renfroe escaped with just one run scored.
Virginia Tech had just seen Ivy Renfroe for seven innings, and the Hokies had hoped for more success the second time around.
“Yeah, we did, but she was just jamming us,” Thomas said. “We just didn’t get our hands out well. We hadn’t seen anybody throw that hard in a while, but it wasn’t like she was fooling us, we just weren’t getting our timing and our hands out.
“Then again we hit some line drives and they had to make bigger plays than us a lot of times. Overall, there were some line shots that they had to catch.”
Tennessee added another run in the sixth inning after Lewis, who hit .333 for the regional, singled to center, moved to second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on a groundout by Chavanne and scored on an infield single by Shipman for an 8-2 lead.
The Lady Vols weren’t finished as they tacked on two runs in the seventh inning. Holly Baker singled through the left side and moved to second after senior Cat Hosfield, who entered a pinch hitter and got a standing ovation, drew a walk. Hosfield, who had knee surgery a few weeks ago, was replaced on the base paths by Andrews, who reentered the game.
Chavanne reached on a bunt and despite the fact she was crossing first when the ball was fielded, it was thrown to first anyway and mishandled, allowing Baker to score from second for a 9-2 lead and sending Chavanne to second and Andrews to third. Dotson, who hit .421 for the regional, singled to second base to bring home Andrews for the final 10-2 score.
Thomas lifted Harrell with two outs in the seventh inning and the orange-clad fans applauded her effort over two games.
“I think I was actually on today but they just made adjustments from the first game and hit better in the second game the pitches that they didn’t hit well in the first,” Harrell said.
Ivy Renfroe got two quick outs in the bottom of the seventh with a soft liner and a groundout, both handled by the pitcher. Gaskill singled to right center, but Chavanne made a diving catch of a ball off the bat of McGoldrick to end the game amid an eruption from the fans.
After Tennessee shook hands with the Virginia Tech players, the Lady Vols gathered on the infield, pointed to the fans and applauded them. Fans packed the stadium all weekend and had a sold-out crowd of 1,718 on Sunday despite temperatures that had most of them seeking any spot of shade between games.
“Unbelievable,” Weekly said of the fans’ support. “We’ve talked to our administration about more seating because the excitement and the clean-cut athleticism of this team and the way they fly around out there draws a lot of fans.
“They are great role models for young children, and it is just a great show.”
The show continues when SEC rival Georgia arrives in Knoxville. The winner in the best-of-three format will advance to the WCWS in Oklahoma City.
Tennessee, after a rough start with a 1-0 loss, recovered this past weekend to score 28 runs – 27 were by RBI – while opponents crossed the plate just four times. The Lady Vols hit .370 as a team (opponents, .144) with an on-base percentage of .412 (opponents, .207).
The Lady Vols learned this weekend that they had resilience, a vital team ingredient in postseason.
“It just shows what we are capable of,” Chavanne said. “We didn’t stress about it and didn’t try too hard; we just played like our own best self. That’s what this whole thing showed us.
“We have the capability with our depth, our pitching, our hitting and our defense that even if we go down a game we can still do it.”
PRESS CONFERENCE QUOTES
Click on the school names below to read the transcript from Sunday’s post-game press conferences.
INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE
Tennessee Coach Ralph Weekly, Raven Chavanne, Shelby Burchell, Ivy Renfroe
Virginia Tech Coach Scot Thomas, Jasmin Harrell
HIGHLIGHTS FROM UTSPORTSTV