October is essentially an exhibition month for college softball teams. The games don’t count, and the coaches are free to experiment with lineups, rest players who need it and put youngsters into pressure situations before anyone starts keeping official score.
Tennessee played on the road at Cookeville on Oct. 5 and in two classics – one on the road in Bowling Green, Ky., the weekend of Oct. 6-7, and then hosted its own in Knoxville on Oct. 13-14. The Lady Vols secured wins over Tennessee Tech, Evansville (twice), Western Kentucky, Chattanooga State, Lee, Chipola and Milligan.
Some early observations by Inside Tennessee from Saturday’s action at Lee Softball Stadium:
Senior pitcher Ivy Renfroe is in regular season form. She worked efficiently, allowed four hits, didn’t walk a batter and struck out 14 of the 25 hitters that she faced in the 6-0 win over Chattanooga State.
Junior Melissa Davin, who struggled at the plate last season, is locked in now with a bat in her hand. With two out in the first inning in Saturday’s game against Chattanooga State and a 2-0 count, Davin sent the next pitch into the parking lot behind the rightfield wall.
Davin hit .280 last season and was third on the team in home runs with eight. She also belted three triples and five doubles. But she had a tendency to let good pitches go – last season she would have taken that 2-0 pitch instead of sending it out of the stadium – and swing at ones high in the zone.
Last season, Davin had 35 strikeouts to just nine walks. (By comparison, Madison Shipman, who also can over-swing at balls nearly level with her neck at times, had 23 walks to 22 strikeouts). In Saturday’s two games, Davin didn’t strike out in six at-bats, walked once, tallied three hits and drove in four runs.
Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly, who wasn’t pleased overall with the team’s hitting that day, was effusive in his praise for Davin (see video below).
Davin also played first base in Saturday’s games (see video interview below) and recorded eight putouts without an error. She is an outfielder by trade, but Weekly wants to get the best bats in the lineup. Based on Davin’s fall ball performance at the plate, she will be in that lineup when the regular season starts.
Tennessee scored 25 total runs in four games in its own classic and allowed just one over two days with scores of 6-0 over Chattanooga State, 6-1 against Lee, 5-0 versus Chipola and 8-0 in the matchup with Milligan.
Freshman pitcher Erin Gabriel will be able to help the team, though she will be playing behind the Renfroe sisters, who have established themselves in the circle. She got into some trouble in the first inning of her game and surrendered a run to Lee but settled down, struck out five, walked three and allowed just two hits in 4.2 innings of work. Sophomore Cheyanne Tarango was very effective out of the bullpen.
Senior Kat Dotson still wears protection on her surgically repaired knee but the savvy veteran has retained a lot of her speed and is a defensive sponge in rightfield. With the super speedy junior Tory Lewis in centerfield, not many balls will find grass in that area of the playing field.
Weekly used various players in leftfield – and Davin played there a lot last season – including senior Whitney Hammond and freshman Rainey Gaffin. He definitely has some options in the outfield. Gaffin also has some size to her and showed some speed on the bases. Weekly might want to make sure basketball coach Holly Warlick doesn’t try to woo her from the softball field to the hard court.
Freshman Lexi Overstreet is a natural third baseman, but that position is held by senior Raven Chavanne, an All-American who was held out of fall ball to recover from shoulder surgery. She is expected back soon and despite playing in pain last season, Chavanne still led the team in hitting at .422.
Overstreet has moved behind the plate – a position she has played before (see video interview below) – and she showed poise for a newcomer, including a couple of conferences in the circle to settle down the pitcher. Overstreet and sophomore Hannah Akamine rotated behind the dish in fall ball, and both should see action in the regular season.
The Lady Vols made the Women’s College World Series last season but were ousted in two games. They have the overall talent, pitching and mix of veterans and newcomers to get there again and hang around a lot longer in 2013.
INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE
The following video interviews were done after last Saturday’s game at Lee Softball Stadium.