Tennessee (24-6) got a breather in between SEC matchups with Florida and Texas A&M with a visit by Murray State (7-13), and the Lady Vols, behind three freshmen, secured a 7-0 win.
Freshman Erin Gabriel had her repertoire of pitches on display – change-up, fastball and drop ball – and claimed her fourth win of the season with eight strikeouts. She allowed two hits and issued just one walk in five innings.
After Murray State dealt with the movement and speed of Gabriel, senior Ivy Renfroe handled the last two innings and mowed down four batters via strikeout.
Renfroe also provided some entertainment for the intrepid souls who remained at windy and cold Lee Stadium. She stumbled with her first step, and the pitch sliced and went about 10 feet over the head of the startled Hannah Akamine. Renfroe was the first to start laughing.
Freshman Lexi Overstreet was behind the plate to open the game and was complimented by co-head coach Karen Weekly for the way she framed pitches for Gabriel.
It was a much-needed confidence boost for Gabriel, who struggled with Alabama in her last outing. On Tuesday, she showed the control and speed that made her a top pitching prospect in the class of 2012.
Rainey Gaffin, a freshman slugger who Weekly said would provide pitching help next season, showed why she was recruited for her power. Gaffin drilled a no-doubt home run over the right-center wall in the fourth inning. She also had a stand-up double that got to the wall in center field. Gaffin was 2-3 with three RBI.
Gaffin said that Ralph Weekly told her before the game that she would get her first career homer that evening. She had looked into the dugout to see if Karen Weekly, who was back just four days after gallbladder removal surgery, wanted her to play the short game. Weekly didn’t see her so Gaffin decided to swing away. She went long.
Overstreet, a catcher/third baseman who has also dusted off her outfield skills to get her bat in the lineup, was 1-2 at the plate and 1-1 behind it as she threw out the first base runner who tried to swipe second. The Racers didn’t run again.
The seniors also made an impact. Raven Chavanne was 2-2, walked once, scored twice, drove in a run and stole three bases. Lauren Gibson was 1-3, walked once, stole a base and drove in a run. Kat Dotson drove in a run and stole a base. Whitney Hammond was 1-3, scored a run and stole two bases. Melissa Brown was 1-2 with a run scored.
Tennessee next hosts Texas A&M beginning Friday for a three-game series.
The Lady Vols will retire the jersey of pitcher Monica Abbott – Gabriel anticipates not being able to speak when she meets her – on Saturday before the 6:30 p.m. at Lee Stadium. That game is sold out and will be shown on ESPNU.
Game highlights from utsportstv
INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE
Erin Gabriel, Lexi Overstreet