March 9, 2012
By Brian Davis, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.-In front of a sold-out crowd of 1,613 Orange-clad fans on a chilly Friday night at the Lee Softball Stadium, the #9 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (15-3, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) rode a three-hit, season-high 15-strikeout effort from sophomore pitcher Ellen Renfroe in posting a 1-0 victory over #3 Florida (21-2, 2-1 SEC) during the opener of a three-game league series.
In topping the Gators on Friday night for UT's ninth consecutive victory, Renfroe (7.0 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 15 K's) registered her fifth career win over a team ranked either #1, #2 or #3 in the polls and her second such triumph of the 2012 campaign after already shutting out #1 and defending national champion Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz., back on Feb. 11. The Jackson, Tenn., native also reached the 10-strikeout plateau for the sixth time this season, topping her previous high of 14 K's done back in a 1-0 victory over Texas Tech on Feb. 10.
At the plate senior left fielder Shelby Burchell (1-for-3, run) started the decisive rally by leading off the bottom of the seventh with a base knock. With the Columbia, Tenn., product occupying third with two down, a ball off the bat of UT freshman pinch hitter Hannah Akamine bounced just over the glove of UF pitcher Hannah Rogers before being dropped on a throw from second baseman Katie Medina to first as Burchell raced home with the winning run.
"I thought both teams fought," Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. "What you saw tonight was a great pitching achievement by both Ellen Renfroe and UF's Hannah Rogers, and they were fantastic. I thought Rogers was throwing really well, and I thought Ellen pitched really well. When you get in a game like that where the pitchers are red hot, they're going to shut down the offenses on both teams. I was just proud we came out on top. Florida is a great team that will make adjustments before tomorrow and Sunday."
Renfroe opened the top of the opening frame by retiring third baseman Sami Fagan via strikeout and center fielder Michelle Moultrie on a bouncer that junior Melissa Brown handled routinely at first. That's when things took a quick Gator turn as designated player Lauren Haeger battled out of a 1-2 hole to reach by a walk. A fielding error on the Big Orange infield and a single to deep short from Cheyenne Coyle loaded the bases full of Gators with two down. Renfroe responded by inducing a routine ground ball to third from first baseman Ensley Gammel. Junior third baseman Raven Chavanne corralled the sphere and made the strong throw to first as Florida left three base runners stranded.
Chavanne christened Tennessee's half of the first by drawing a lead-off walk. With the Thousand Oaks, Calif., native cut down at second on a fielder's choice off the bat of senior catcher Ashley Andrews, a throwing error on the routine toss back to Rogers in the circle allowed UT's catcher to scamper into second safely with one down. A grounder from junior second baseman Lauren Gibson moved the runner to third, but a failed try on a bunt attempt resulted in Andrews getting cut down via a caught stealing to end an eventful frame with no damage done on the scoreboard for either team.
Tennessee's sophomore shortstop Madison Shipman wrapped up a quick one-two-three top of the second for the Gators by ranging well to her right behind the third base bag to make a terrific running, back-handed catch of a pop-up from UF left fielder Jess Damico.
The two pitchers exerted their dominance soon afterwards in settling the contest down. Rogers struck out the Lady Vol side during the bottom of the second, while Renfroe answered back with her own three consecutive K string in the top of the third.
The Big Orange got its initial hit of the match-up with one retired in the bottom of the third on a high chopping base knock off the bat of Tarango. With two outs Chavanne managed a walk and then Andrews managed what amounted to a swinging bunt, loading the bases for Gibson. Unfortunately, the Pasadena, Md., product's short pop-up was corralled on the run by shortstop Cheyenne Coyle as UT joined the Gators in leaving the bags packed during the match-up.
Renfroe continued her dominance from the circle in the top of the fifth, striking out the side for the second time in the game by punching out right fielder Kasey Fagan, second baseman Katie Medina and Damico.
Tarango kicked off UT's half of the 5th with a promising double to left, but was soon stranded on the base paths. A bunt attempt by junior Whitney Hammond was popped foul and caught by UF third baseman Sami Fagan for the first out. Chavanne followed with a popup and Andrews grounded out as the runner was stranded in scoring position.
Fagan got something going for the Gators during the top of the sixth by dropping a perfectly placed bunt to first. Unfazed, Renfroe struck out the side for the third time in the contest, registering K's against #2-4 hitters Moultrie, Haeger and Horton.
Gammel became the potential go-ahead run in the top of the seventh by lacing a single through the left side of the infield. Renfroe responded to the base runner by catching Kasey Fagan and Bailey Castro swinging to end the inning and surpass her season-high with 15 K's.
Leading off the bottom of the seventh, Burchell quickly got on base after shooting a single through the infield. Junior first baseman Melissa Brown laid down a sacrifice bunt in front of the mound, and then Tarango grounded out to the pitcher, improving Burchell to third and setting up some late inning heroics.
Pinch hitting for Hammond, Akamine stepped to the plate. Down quickly in the count 0-2, the Escondido, Calif., native nubbed a slow roller just over Rogers' glove that was fielded by the second baseman but dropped by Gammel on the toss to first to give UT the victory.
#9 Tennessee and #3 Florida return to action on Saturday at 2 PM EST at Lee Softball Stadium.