The victory punched the UT program’s fourth ticket in six years to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla., slated for June 3-9. Michigan had entered the series against Tennessee on a 36-game winning streak before falling twice to the Lady Vols.
With the triumph the Big Orange improved to an incredible 8-2 all-time in the NCAA Super Regionals and is now a perfect four-for-four in advancing to the WCWS.
Senior first baseman Nicole Kajitani helped set an early tone with a homer to rightfield while going 1-for-3 at the dish. Senior first baseman Erinn Webb blasted two HRs during the contest in posting a 2-for-3 effort with two RBIs.
Freshman second baseman Lauren Gibson recorded an RBI after getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the first inning, bringing across rookie leftfielder Raven Chavanne (1-for-2, run) with the game’s initial tally.
The Tennessee offensive effort backed another solid pitching performance from sophomore starter Cat Hosfield and freshman reliever Ivy Renfroe.
Hosfield kept the dangerous Wolverine lineup in check, holding Michigan to two runs on four hits with a pair of strikeouts over 4.2 innings of work in improving to 17-8 overall. Renfroe entered in the fifth inning and recorded her fifth save of the season after permitting one run on three hits with four K’s in 2.1 frames.
“I went up and gave Michigan coach Carol Hutchins a big hug after the game,” Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “I truly love her as a coach and as a person. She’s one of the top three coaches in the game.
"Things just went right out there for us these last two days. Karen (co-head coach Weekly), Marty (assistant coach McDaniel) and I are so proud of our kids for their effort in this incredible atmosphere. You have to give a ton of credit to Michigan, they are a great team.
"Cat Hosfield pitched so well today when we needed it, and it was so clutch to get big home runs from Erinn Webb and Peanut (Nicole Kajitani).”
Hosfield came out ready to go from the circle in the top of the first, retiring centerfielder Molly Bausher by strikeout and getting a flyout to right from right fielder Angela Findlay. The 5-9 right-hander walked third baseman Maggie Viefhaus, but as the Michigan runner attempted to steal, Hosfield got a strong throw from her battery-mate Tiffany Huff to Gibson to nail Viefhaus and end the inning.
Chavanne getting hit by a pitch starting the inning got the huge threat going for Tennessee in the bottom of the first. Freshman right fielder Kat Dotson followed with a slap single between third and short and all of a sudden UT had two on and no outs.
The UT clean-up hitter Jessica Spigner was intentionally walked to pack the bags for Gibson. The Pasadena, Md., native became the second Lady Vol to be hit by a Nemitz offering in the frame, forcing in Chavanne and quickly it was 1-0 Big Orange. Huff swung at a pitch and ended up bouncing a ball just a few feet out in front of the plate. Michigan catcher Roya St. Clair raced out from behind the dish to corral the ball, apparently touched the plate and fired just in time to double up Huff at first for a huge inning-ending play.
The momentum from escaping the huge jam in the bottom of the first carried over into Michigan’s offensive turn at-bat in the second. First baseman Dorian Shaw walked with one out and then second baseman Amanda Chidester ripped a sharp single into left field, placing occupants at first and second. Hosfield handled a bouncer back to the circle from Nemitz, turned and cut down the lead runner on a strong throw to Spigner at third.
The Lady Vol starter then caught shortstop Steph Kirkpatrick looking at a beautiful strike three to leave the Wolverine duo where they stood.
In the bottom of the second inning Tennessee utilized the long ball to build a more substantial lead on the scoreboard. Kajitani christened the frame by driving a Nemitz pitch to deep right and into the bleachers for her third home run of the season, improving the UT lead to 2-0.
Webb stepped to the plate against new pitcher Jordan Taylor and blasted the first offering she received to left center for her seventh HR of the year as the advantage quickly expanded to three runs. The back-to-back homers marked the first time the Lady Vols had pulled off that feat since March 6, 2010, when Spigner and Huff went back-to-back in a win over Illinois State in Knoxville.
Despite a two-out double from Findlay in the third and a Chidester single with two down in the top of the fourth, Hosfield continued to control the powerful Wolverine offense that had entered the weekend scoring over seven runs a game.
Webb granted the Lady Vols what proved to be a huge insurance run by blasting her second homer of the contest with one out in the bottom of the fourth. The Hemet, Calif., product’s drive to right bounced off Findlay’s glove, hit just over the wall and bounced back into the field of play as the lead expanded to 4-0.
The occurrence marked the third time in 2010 that a Lady Vol hit two HRs in a single matchup as Spigner (Illinois State, March 6) and Huff (Tennessee Tech, April 20) turned the feat earlier in the season. Michigan’s Taylor had entered the contest having allowed only 11 big flies during the entire campaign.
Michigan’s Bausher managed a walk against Hosfield with two outs in the top of the fifth, bringing the heart of the dangerous Wolverine line-up to the plate. That came back to haunt the Big Orange as Findlay followed with a high drive over the wall in left center, cutting the Michigan deficit to 4-2. That ended what had been a very impressive start from the circle from Hosfield as Renfroe was summoned in with an opportunity to save the game for Tennessee.
Starting the top of the sixth, St. Clair fought over a nine-pitch at-bat. Included in the battle was a bouncer that checked up in front of a charging Spigner, forcing her to wait what seemed to be an eternity for it to roll foul.
After St. Clair bounced out to Gibson at second base, Shaw stepped to the plate and drove a solo HR to left center off Renfroe to make it 4-3 Tennessee in the top of the sixth. That marked the first run allowed by the 5-10 right hander in NCAA Tournament action, a stretch of 21 straight innings of work over five appearances.
Renfroe rebounded immediately in a big way to strikeout Chidester and catch Nemitz looking at a big strike three to move the Lady Vols within three outs of Oklahoma City and the WCWS.
With one final chance in the top of the seventh, Michigan’s Kirkpatrick managed to draw a lead-off walk and suddenly the Wolverines had offensive life. Renfroe recorded a huge first out on a swinging strikeout of Amy Knapp.
Bausher kept the rally going with a clean single into left, bringing the middle of the order up with a chance to tie the score or give Michigan a lead. Findlay came through with a base knock to center, but the threat of Grieve’s strong throwing arm in center forced UM coach Carol Hutchins to hold the runner at third. That proved a huge play as Viefhaus struck out to get UT within one retirement of advancing to Oklahoma City.
St. Clair stepped into the batter’s box and ripped a liner that caused Lady Vol hearts to skip a beat. Andrews was positioned perfectly, however, catching the shot and leaping into the air as her teammates raced on the field and joined in the Big Orange celebration.