Tennessee (21-7, 3-3 SEC) lost the series 1-2, but all of the games were close. The end result came down to inexperience, according to Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly. Georgia (22-4, 3-3 SEC) simply had more.
"It is definitely related to youth," Weekly said. "Georgia has a team that's been in the World Series. You gotta give 'em a ton of credit. They were just like piranhas out there."
That youth, which includes 10 freshmen, surfaced when Tennessee consistently failed to maintain leads in each of the games' last couple innings.
"The sad thing was we had 'em beat," Weekly lamented. "It's tough to lose two out of three to the No. 6 team that you should've beaten all three games. We had significant leads."
Tennessee roared out to 5-1 lead after five innings in the first game only to see Georgia trim the lead to 5-4 in the seventh inning. Junior left fielder Megan Wiggins of Georgia blasted the first Tennessee pitch of the frame over the wall of Lee Softball Stadium.
The Weeklys then called on sophomore pitcher/third baseman Jessica Spigner for some relief in the circle. After walking the first batter she faced, no other Bulldog reached base. Spigner earned her first save of the year by recording three consecutive outs and preserving the win for the Lady Vols 5-4.
"Spigner is a relief pitcher," Weekly said. "She's supposed to come in and give us a couple of good innings, throw the off speed, keep the ball down. I was really proud of what she did in game one."
The second contest likely had the 1,002 fans in attendance thinking "Deja Vu."
After four innings, Tennessee led 5-1. Georgia then went on a massive scoring run in the sixth that would doom the Orange. Five hits and three walks led to eight runs for the Bulldogs, and the Lady Vols never recovered.
"The thing about fast pitch is (scoring) runs," Weekly said. "It's almost like basketball where you're going to have two or three runs during the game, and you gotta respond. They had their run in the sixth inning, and we didn't respond."
Tennessee tried to battle back but was unable, losing 10-6.
Starting strong was a key focus for the Lady Vols. They knew Georgia would score runs, so Tennessee's focus was to deliver the first blow and go from there.
"We told our team that we're going to come out punching," senior first baseman Erinn Webb said. "We've got to make the first blow. We've got to come out and play hard, can't take them easy. They're a great hitting team, and we're a great hitting team, so it's going to be a battle between the hitters pretty much."
The pitchers, however, ultimately determined the final outcome.
"Overall I was proud of our kids," Weekly said. "We just didn't get it done in the circle in game two. The ball was high a lot. That's kind of what did it. Our kids fought. They fought all day, but when you're getting hammered at the plate, it's pretty hard."
Tennessee then needed to regroup and focus on its final bout with Georgia. Putting the second game completely in the past was important.
"These games are done and over with, and now we've got to focus on the present," Webb said. "We've got to come out firing on top. As long as we come out firing, I think we can be sucessful."
Weekly offered the same advice.
"We've just got to put everything behind us," Weekly advised. "What happened no longer matters. We've just got to come out ready to play (Sunday)."
Unfortuntely for Tennessee, the final game followed a storyline similar to the others.
"It was the exact same script from (Saturday), almost exactly," Weekly said later Sunday. "Their players came up and were ripping the ball. Then we started to get passive, after we'd been so agressive previous to that."
After five innings the Lady Vols led Georgia 6-1. The Lady Bulldog offense began to heat up late once again. This time, though, Georgia benefited from Lady Vol errors.
Beginning the top of the seventh inning, the Lady Vols led 6-3. Freshman second baseman Melissa Brown mishandled a ground ball which allowed a Lady Bulldog to reach safely. Later, after Georgia had cut the lead to 6-5, sophomore shortstop Ashley Andrews let a potential double-play ball slip under her glove. With one out and a runner on first, that play would have ended the game. Instead, Georgia capitalized, scoring another run and sending the game to an eighth frame.
"Our kids played hard," Weekly said. "They're good kids, and they're going to win. I'm not going to be down on 'em. It was a team loss. This one (game three) you can't hang on the pitchers because we could've made a couple of plays that got us out of it, and we didn't."
In the eighth inning, Georgia sophomore second baseman Ashley Pauly sent the second pitch of the inning over the wall. Though the Lady Vols fought all weekend, they could not fight back with 7-6 the final score.
"We took it to 'em every game," Weekly said. "Then, in the end we were more passive, and they were more agressive. But, there's a lot of teams in this league that we're going to be more agressive than, too. We just ran into a buzz saw (this weekend."
The loss left the coaching staff looking for answers and looking for some leadership.
"What we're looking for is accountability," Weekly said. "We want them (the upperclassmen) to lead the freshmen. We want them to understand the Tennessee tradition and understand that it was one game of 28 in the conference.
"I'm just proud of our team. I'm proud of 'em, but we need some tweaking."
The Lady Vols next take on Kentucky in a double-header starting at 4 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday at Lee Softball Stadium.