The MVPs of the Knoxville Regional were sister pitchers Ivy and Ellen Renfroe, but a tip of the ball cap should be extended to the Tennessee grounds crew, a staff that should sleep well Sunday night.
“I think they all slept here last night,” Lady Vols co-head coach Karen Weekly said Sunday during a post-game interview in the clubhouse after Tennessee went 3-0 over three days and advanced to the Super Regional.
That event also will be in Knoxville against SEC rival Alabama with play beginning next Friday at 7 p.m. in a best-of-three series with game two and game three, if necessary, on Saturday. Tickets will go at sale Monday beginning at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.
Fans can buy tickets three ways: Online at UTTix; in person at the Tennessee Athletics Ticket Office at the street level of Thompson-Boling Arena between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.; or by phone at 865-656-1200.
Season ticket holders have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to call or stop by the ticket office to claim their seats.
The grounds crew will likely be hoping for pleasant weather after a weekend of rain delays, tarp pulls and field maintenance.
Tennessee shortstop Madison Shipman mentioned the great shape of the field in Sunday’s post-game press conference, and Karen Weekly saluted the administration for the high staffing levels of that crew.
The weather took a toll on N.C. State – and ace pitcher Emily Weiman – after the Wolfpack spent a late night at Lee Softball Stadium on Saturday and then had to finish that rain-suspended game against James Madison beginning at 11:30 a.m. Sunday morning.
N.C. State eliminated James Madison with a 6-4 win and then had to face a well-rested Tennessee team. Both teams had to wait out a lightning-tinged weather delay that pushed Sunday’s start from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.
After an 11-inning 1-0 win over N.C. State on Saturday – Ellen Renfroe went the distance and had to overcome three errors behind her in the field – the Lady Vols wasted no time getting started Sunday and ended the day with a 7-0 win, highlighted by a blast over the wall in right-center by Shipman.
Kat Dotson laced a single into rightfield in the first inning to bring home Raven Chavanne and then Shipman scored on a delayed steal home after Dotson swiped second.
That gave Ivy Renfroe a 2-0 lead before she threw a pitch – the Lady Vols were designated as the visiting team for the game – and she allowed just two balls out of the infield – an outfield pop-up and a roller up the middle for the Wolfpack’s one hit – struck out five and didn’t walk a batter until the seventh inning when two got a free pass to first.
“My pace was going a little fast,” Renfroe said.
“Rapid-fire,” said Shipman, who briefly spoke to Renfroe in between walks and reminded her to slow down.
The outfielders were nearly idle Sunday - Melissa Brown fielded a foul ball fly-out and Tory Lewis handled the hit up the middle - so they got involved at the plate. Right fielder Dotson drove in the first run of the game and Lewis laced a double to the wall and scored a run.
Ivy Renfroe got Friday’s 9-0 win over Longwood, while sister Ellen got Saturday’s 1-0 shutout. While N.C. State had to come back Sunday with Weiman – first-year Wolfpack coach Shawn Rychcik had joked Saturday that he should be fired if he didn’t – Karen Weekly could send Ivy to the circle after a full day of rest.
“I just felt that we were being focused on every pitch matters,” Ivy Renfroe said.
Shipman noted, “It’s awesome. We know we just have to put up one run, and our pitchers are going to hold them.”
Both sisters struggled in the regular season ending series against Missouri, a weekend that cost the Lady Vols the SEC title.
“I think they felt like they had to come out and make a statement,” Ralph Weekly said. “I thought Ellen and Ivy did a great job.”
Ellen Renfroe got her win by shutting out N.C. State over 11 innings. Ivy Renfroe blistered Longwood with five innings of heat on Friday and then kept N.C. State off balance Sunday by changing speeds over seven innings. The Wolfpack had just three runners on base – and two of those were the walks in the final inning.
“I think what really helped Ivy today was her change-up was very effective,” Karen Weekly said.
Renfroe also got considerable help from the offense starting with Chavanne using her speed to score in the first inning. The senior crossed the plate twice Sunday, giving her 242 runs scored, breaking Lindsay Schutzler’s career mark of 241. Chavanne has another record in sight with 351 career hits. The program mark is 362, also held by Schutzler.
A year ago, the Lady Vols had to slog through the loser’s bracket after dropping their first game. This year in May, they were tested Saturday and cruised Friday and Sunday. The coaches were aware Saturday of the incoming inclement weather and it was a dugout topic during the game.
“Not only do you want to win this game,” Karen Weekly said of the in-game conversation, “but with the pending forecast, whoever doesn’t win is looking at a long night.”
That is what N.C. State got – and an early start Sunday to finish that game – while the Lady Vols got a good night’s sleep.
“It was a tough situation for the other three teams,” Karen Weekly said. “It was huge for us to get that win.”
Weekly complimented Weiman for her effort in the circle over the three days.
“She is a fighter and a competitor,” Weekly said. “I have a ton of respect for what she accomplished.”
Weiman summed up Sunday’s final game as “a little bit of fatigue, a little bit sore, a little bit of a lack of sleep.”
Rychcik was impressed with what he saw from Tennessee.
"I would expect them to be in Oklahoma City,” he said.
Tennessee will first have to tackle Alabama. That means Weekly will now turn her attention to Crimson Tide pitcher Jackie Traina.
“She has taken her team to a national championship,” Weekly said. “She has been on a big stage.”
Before Weekly begins to break down film to prepare for the Super Regional, she should savor what her pitchers did in the Regional.
“We got three shutouts this weekend,” Weekly said. “And it was the regional touted as having the best hitting.”
Game highlights from utsportstv
Madison Shipman, Ivy Renfroe
Co-head coach Ralph Weekly
N.C. State coach Shawn Rychcik, Emily Weiman