Tennessee (38-6, 12-3) swept Auburn (27-18, 6-12) in a game that was got more interesting after it ended when Tigers coach Tina Deese was clearly upset with the Lady Vols coaching staff.
Her ire apparently stemmed from an incident in the seventh inning when Ivy Renfroe, who entered in relief in the sixth and struggled with her control, hit Morgan Estell in the helmet. Estell had to be helped to the dugout.
Renfroe was distraught in the circle – so much so that co-head coach Karen Weekly considered bringing back Ellen Renfroe – but the older sister recovered and retired the next two batters, though not without Deese getting upset about the second out.
Tiffany Howard lined a single into center, but home plate umpire Ron Alexander ruled her foot was out of the batter’s box when she made contact, and he ruled her out. That brought Deese out of the dugout and when Alexander showed her the footmark in the dirt, she twice emphatically stuck her foot in the dirt between his legs amid, just as Saturday, some fans calling for her ejection.
The game ended when McKenzie Kilpatrick sent a fly ball to leftfield that was snared by a diving Melissa Brown.
Deese, who was agitated after the game, had some words with the Weeklys at home plate after the handshake line. Ralph Weekly engaged her in conversation for a few minutes and then went to the dugout, leaving Karen Weekly to talk to Deese.
It was an extended conversation and a large group of fans among the 1,811 in the sellout crowd stopped filing out and instead watched the exchange.
Karen Weekly returned to the dugout and when Ivy Renfroe learned that she was the source of Deese’s anger, the senior pitcher asked to speak with the coach and Estell.
“Ivy Renfroe is the last person in the world that would ever throw at anybody,” Karen Weekly said. “Ivy was mortified that that ball hit that girl in the head. That pitch just got away from her.”
The pitch was intended to be low but it was up and in, an indication that Renfroe, who walked the first batter she saw in the sixth inning on four straight pitches, was struggling with placement.
Renfroe told Estell that she didn’t intend to hit her, and “she said, ‘Ivy, I know you wouldn’t,’ ” Karen Weekly said.
Auburn lost one player Friday to what appeared to be a serious knee injury – she was on crutches and wearing a brace all weekend – and then got swept by Tennessee.
“It was a tough series for Auburn and a frustrating series,” Weekly said. “You get to the end of the series and your best player gets hit in the head, emotions can get a little high.”
The Lady Vols wasted no time getting on the scoreboard in the third game of the series thanks to an excellent at-bat by Madison Shipman. Raven Chavanne and Kat Dotson had opened the game with singles and stolen bases to put runners on second and third.
Shipman went in the hole 0-2 on a strike and foul ball, took two balls and fouled off three more pitches before lining a ball to the wall in right-center to put Tennessee up 2-0. A four-run third fueled by home runs by Cheyanne Tarango and Melissa Davin finished the scoring at 6-0.
Tennessee will step out of conference and host Appalachian State at 6 p.m. Tuesday before traveling to Ole Miss for a three-game series starting Friday.
The Lady Vols had a 19-game win streak last season and will try to add to the current 15-game one this week.
“You can’t stay focused on the win streak,” Karen Weekly said. “The more we think about wins and getting number 16, the worse we play and the more uptight we play.
“We just need to focus on one pitch at a time.”
Key defensive inning for Tennessee: The first when Auburn threatened to take its first lead of the series. Tiffany Howard was hit by Ellen Renfroe and stole second. But Emily Carosone flied out to center and Brooke Lathan lined out to second.
An honorable mention nod goes to the second when leadoff batter Caitlin Schultze sent a ball into the gap between center and right but a fully extended and diving Kat Dotson made the catch. Emily Renfroe needed just six more pitches – a groundout and popup – to end the inning.
Another honorable mention nod goes to the sixth inning when Ivy Renfroe walked the first batter she saw on four pitches but ended a bases-loaded threat with a strikeout. It was the third time in the series that Renfroe snuffed out bases loaded with a strikeout.
Key offensive inning for Tennessee: The third when the speed of Kat Dotson set the tone. Dotson doubled down the rightfield line and then swiped third standing when the catcher barely bobbled the ball on a low pitch.
Madison Shipman then hit a grounder to third and when the third baseman briefly bobbled the ball, Dotson darted home and slid in safely, allowing Shipman to reach first.
That was followed by the fireworks – a no-doubt shot over the leftfield wall from Cheyanne Tarango on the second pitch she saw and a moon shot over the centerfield wall on the first pitch thrown to Melissa Davin.
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