Tennessee (45-9) needed just five innings to secure its first NCAA tourney win of 2013 with a 9-0 shellacking of Longwood (41-19) on Friday evening.
“I’m proud of our team,” Lady Vols co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “Longwood, even though they might have been stymied tonight, is not a pushover team.”
The Lancers arrived about 30 minutes late to Lee Softball Stadium after a Jeep caromed off a concrete wall and into the team bus on an exit ramp off Interstate 40. Vans were sent to the accident site – a short distance from campus – to get the players and staff, who weren’t injured, and their equipment to the stadium.
“They couldn’t decide whether to get off the ramp or on – unfortunately it was a young kid who had just gotten his license,” said Longwood coach Kathy Riley, who added the two occupants of the Jeep weren’t severely injured, even though the vehicle flipped.
“Neither one got hurt too bad so we were really thankful for that,” she said. “We were in the bigger vehicle so we were OK.”
Riley believed her team had put the incident in the rear view mirror by the time the game started.
After a relatively slow start – Tennessee got on base but left three runners there in the first two innings – the Lady Vols erupted in the third inning for four runs.
“It gets our energy up high and gets our momentum going,” Ivy Renfroe said. “It’s awesome to do that.”
Cheyanne Tarango came to bat in the first inning with two on and two out, and she struck out swinging. The sophomore was presented with the same situation in the third inning and this time she laced a single to rightfield that brought home Kat Dotson and Lauren Gibson for a 2-0 lead.
“I think about keeping it simple and putting my bat on the ball,” Tarango said.
Gibson would have been tagged out at the plate for the third out – the throw arrived before she did – but the ball got away from the catcher. That was fortuitous for Tennessee because the next batter, Rainey Gaffin, drilled the first pitch over the centerfield wall for a two-run homer and a 4-0 lead.
Weekly said the freshman had a “death grip” on the bat in her first plate appearance in the second inning – a groundout to third – and the coaches got Rainey settled down before her next at-bat.
Tennessee put the game away in the fourth inning with five runs thanks to a double by Madison Shipman that scored Raven Chavanne and pinch runner Jennifer Burroughs, and a three-run blast off the leftfield light pole by Tarango – she said the pitch was inside – that brought home Shipman and Gibson.
“That is the nature of playing someone that’s talented,” Riley said of the Lady Vols’ offensive eruption.
Longwood grounded out three times – the last on a diving stab by Chavanne – in the top of the fifth to end the game under the mercy rule.
Ivy Renfroe threw a two-hit shutout and needed just 77 pitches for her 18th win of the season. The senior struck out six batters and walked just one.
“I was just trying to go right at them,” Renfroe said. “I know they are a really good hitting team.”
Renfroe twice faced Megan Baltzell, who leads the nation with 30 home runs. The sophomore struck out swinging both times.
“I don’t even know which one,” Renfroe said. “I was going right at them. They hit a lot of home runs. I did know that.”
Weekly just smiled at Renfroe’s answer to the media.
“That’s OK. We knew,” he said. “We were calling pitches.”
Renfroe needed just four pitches to strike out Baltzell in her first at-bat – and the crowd wanted it on the third pitch – and for the second at-bat, Renfroe came inside three times, moved outside and then farther outside for the swinging strike.
“Absolutely,” Weekly said when asked if the plan was to move around the strike zone. “We knew we couldn’t stay in the same place.”
A year ago, the Lady Vols opened their regional with a loss and battled for two days in the loser’s bracket to reach the Super Regional. They wanted a different script this season.
“We knew how much harder we had to work last year,” Tarango said. “We wanted to make it easier on ourselves this year.”
Weekly noted a win is needed Saturday to avoid the same tough path.
“The main thing I want our kids to do is relax tonight, get to bed early, come in and watch our at-bats against North Carolina State and hope we can play well tomorrow,” Weekly said.
N.C. State (34-18-1) stayed in the winner’s bracket with a 2-0 win over James Madison (41-16). The game was scoreless through five innings, but the Wolfpack got a two-out homer from Bethaney Wells in the sixth inning. Three groundouts later, James Madison headed to the loser’s bracket for a matchup with Longwood.
Tennessee’s game against N.C. State is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The Lady Vols defeated the Wolfpack, 7-0, in an early season game at the USF 4 Team Tournament on Feb. 15.
The James Madison-Longwood matchup is set for 4 p.m. Saturday. The losers of the two games will meet at 6:30 p.m. for the right to play Sunday. However, inclement weather is in the forecast for Saturday, so games times could change.
Co-head coach Karen Weekly was ready to watch film and entered the post-game press conference – it is held in the film room – just as her husband was wrapping up the media session. He noted that his wife was the video expert.
“I thought you were going to say runs the show,” she joked.
“She does a lot of that, too,” he said.
VIDEO COVERAGE FROM UTSPORTSTV
Coach Ralph Weekly
Cheyanne Tarango, Ivy Renfroe
Longwood Coach Kathy Riley