Crimson Tide coach Patrick Murphy’s post-game opening statement was succinct: “They got the key hit and we didn’t.”
It was as accurate as it was short as Tennessee (48-10) secured the 3-2 win Friday evening over Alabama (45-14) thanks to a two-out, two-RBI single by Cheyanne Tarango.
The Crimson Tide had loaded the bases with one out in the top of the third, but Jadyn Spencer and Danielle Richard struck out swinging against Ellen Renfroe.
Tennessee had the same scenario in the bottom of the third, and Alabama pitcher Jackie Traina struck out Rainey Gaffin looking on a pitch that appeared to be well off the plate. That brought up Tarango, who worked the count to 3-1, and then, anticipating a changeup on the outside, drilled the pitch into centerfield to bring home Lauren Gibson and Raven Chavanne.
“I felt her tendencies and with me pulling the first foul ball, I had a funny feeling that she was going to give me outside or a changeup so I sat on it,” Tarango said.
Alabama got on the scoreboard first in the second inning after two walks put Spencer in scoring position, and Courtney Conley smoked a single into centerfield to bring her home.
Hannah Akamine answered in the bottom half of the inning with a two-out solo homer over the leftfield wall. It was the sophomore catcher’s third homer of the season, and the ball left the stadium in a hurry.
“I reminded her the other day, ‘I recruited you to become a home run hitter,’ ” Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “And it couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Murphy noted, “She hit a fatty. That was not a good pitch. Jackie knows it wasn’t her best pitch.”
The shot knotted the game at one run each and shifted momentum to Tennessee, much to the delight of a raucously loud sellout crowd of 1,650, the majority of whom were in orange – and later blankets and sweats as the temperatures dropped in Knoxville.
“It definitely changed the momentum,” Tarango said. “With them scoring right off the bat, I feel like we didn’t get down necessarily, but I feel like we were in the ball game and us scoring was like, ‘Yeah, we’re two good teams and it’s going to be like this the whole game.’ ”
It was indeed a game befitting two SEC rivals, who played three times this season in early March with Tennessee winning 4-3 and 2-1 and losing 7-1 when the Lady Vols sent a freshman pitcher to the circle.
Weekly opened Friday’s game with Ellen Renfroe and after an Alabama single and walk in the fourth inning, Weekly brought in Ivy Renfroe. She surrendered an RBI single that pulled Alabama to within one and then got a web gem from Chavanne, who snared a ball on the line and threw out the runner from her knees to preserve the lead.
Chavanne had accounted for Tennessee’s only error in the third when an errant throw ended up in tarp storage, but she atoned with the aforementioned throw and then a difficult catch of a foul ball in front of the dugout in the seventh inning.
“Raven got a lot of hot balls at third base,” Weekly said.
Ellen Renfroe struck out six batters and walked four over 3.2 innings. Ivy Renfroe allowed two hits over 3.1 innings and is now 20-4 on the season.
The sister pair present a formidable challenge to hitters, especially when they appear in the same game.
“It’s off speed, movement and then Randy Johnson coming in throwing gas,” Murphy said.
Weekly smiled and declined to answer when asked which sister would be in the circle to open game two at 5 p.m. Saturday (ESPN).
“You’re going to see a lot of Renfroes,” Weekly said.
Game highlights from utsportstv