March 10, 2007
GAINESVILLE, Fla. - An above-capacity crowd of 1,464 at the Florida Softball Field watched No. 1 Tennessee (23-0, 1-0 SEC) and No. 19 Florida (18-9, 0-1 SEC) require extra softball and the international tiebreaker rule to settle things before the Lady Vols prevailed 1-0 in 10 innings. Senior pitcher Monica Abbott fired her NCAA Division I career record-breaking 95th shutout by tallying a career-high 22 strikeouts (tied for the 19th highest total in a single game all-time in NCAA D-I annals) while allowing just one hit.
The 6-3 lefthander also stretched her consecutive scoreless inning streak to 92.2 consecutive frames, fifth-longest in NCAA history, and at 17-0 equaled the longest winning skein of her illustrious career.
Tennessee registered plenty of scoring opportunities against UF in the opener by totaling nine hits while leaving 11 stranded on base in the match-up against Gator pitcher Stacey Nelson. Senior center fielder Lindsay Schutzler delivered a 3-for-5 effort in the circle and scored the Lady Vols' lone run on a crucial UF throwing error in the 10th. Senior left fielder India Chiles returned from an injury suffered against Appalachian State to go 2-for-3, while freshman right fielder Tiffany Huff was 2-for-4.
Huff tallied Tennessee's initial hit of the contest with two down in the top of the first by blooping a single into short center field against Nelson. Unfortunately for the Big Orange, junior first baseman Tonya Callahan went down swinging to conclude the frame.
Abbott's initial 2007 foray into the Southeastern Conference in the bottom of the first inning was an unqualified success as the Salinas, Calif., native raced through second baseman Kim Waleszonia, shortstop Lauren Roussell and third baseman Melissa Zick, all by K, to strikeout the side for the 53rd time this season. The 6-3 lefthander added three more K's in the second to up her total to six through the opening two frames.
Sophomore shortstop Liane Horiuchi was struck by a Nelson offering to kick-off the top of the third for Tennessee. Junior second baseman Kenora Posey attempted to lay down a sacrifice bunt, but UF's Nelson handled the ball cleanly in the circle and threw to second to cut down Horiuchi for the first out. Posey swiped her 10th base of the season to advance into scoring position and was joined on the basepaths by Schutzler as the Monterey, Calif., product ripped a hard single to short. In the biggest play of the frame, Posey strayed too far off second and was gunned down on a throw by catcher Kristina Hilberth to shortstop Roussell to Zick covering third for the inning's second retirement. Chiles bunted in front of the plate and reached safely with Schutzler moving all the way to third on the play. Huff grounded routinely to short to end the threat with the score still deadlocked at 0-0.
For the third consecutive inning, Abbott struck out the side as right fielder Mary Ratliff, left fielder Corrie Brooks and Hilberth all went down on strikes to make it nine-up and nine-down, all by K.
The initial Florida hitter to put a ball into play did so with one out in the bottom of the fourth as Roussell's grounder up the middle tipped off Abbott's glove, but traveled right to a hustling Horiuchi who nabbed the sphere and threw on to first for an unconventional 1-6-3 put out. Abbott struck out Zick for her 11th K of the contest to close the fourth.
Schutzler and Chiles registered consecutive two-out base knocks in the top of the fifth to place runners at the corners. UF's Nelson got Huff swinging, however, for the third retirement as the Lady Vols left their fifth and sixth runners on base.
In the bottom of the fifth, Florida first baseman Ali Gardiner granted the Orange & Blue their initial base runner of the match-up with a clean, one-out single through the left side of the infield. Designated player Savana Kelly jumped on an Abbott offering and drove it to deep center field, but Schutzler tracked the ball down at the base of the wall for a very frightening second out. Tennessee's All-American in the circle responded by punching out Ratliff for the second time in the contest to improve her K total to 13 through five frames.
Callahan greeted Nelson with a shot up the middle for a lead-off base hit to christen the top of the sixth and was immediately replaced by sophomore pinch runner Lillian Hammond. The pitcher's duel continued as Nelson rebounded from the single to induce a high fly out to left by freshman designated player Alexia Clay, to strikeout sophomore third baseman Jennifer Griffin and to force junior catcher Shannon Doepking to hit into a fielder's choice to maintain the scoreless deadlock heading to the home half of the sixth.
Brooks, Hilberth and Waleszonia went down swinging against Abbott in the bottom of the sixth to make it 16 K's and counting for Abbott in the contest as well as 56 occasions of striking out the side for the year.
With one down in the top of the seventh, Nelson hit Posey with a pitch to bestow UT an important base runner. Schutzler followed with a soft single down the left field line to grant the Orange & White a pair on the bags. Sophomore left fielder Danielle Pieroni drove a shot into deep left field that drifted just foul before being nabbed by Brooke Johnson for the second out. Huff singled to third to load the bases for the power-hitting Callahan, but the Holden, Mo., native flied out to left center to strand three more runners on the base paths and raise Tennessee's game total to 10.
Still scoreless heading to the last half of the seventh, Florida's Zick drew a free pass off Abbott to grant UF a chance to plate the game-winner in regulation. It wouldn't come to fruition as Abbott K'ed Howard, and Doepking gunned out Zick attempting to swipe second to conclude the frame and send the two teams to extra innings.
After UT went one-two-three in the top of the eighth, Abbott made some personal history in the bottom half of the frame by punching out the side for the fifth time to equal her career-high in strikeouts with 20. She set the initial mark during her freshman campaign by tallying 20 K's in seven innings at Tyson Park in a 1-0 shutout over Liberty on March 26, 2004.
Both teams were retired in order in the ninth as Nelson got the Lady Vols on three consecutive ground balls, while Abbott struck out her career-best 21st batter in the contest and got some defensive help from her battery-mate Doepking. Florida's Waleszonia popped up a bunt about five feet in the air just in front of the plate. Doepking raced out from behind her position behind the dish to make a diving "web gem" play to corral the orb and conclude the inning.
Entering the 10th in SEC contests, the international tiebreaker rule comes into effect as each team begins its half-inning with a runner placed on second. With Schutzler starting off in scoring position, Chiles dropped a potential sacrifice bunt out in front of home plate. UF catcher Hilberth handled the sphere but rushed her throw wide to first for a crucial error allowing Schutzler to race around and grant Tennessee a crucial 1-0 advantage.
Roussell grounded out to Posey at second to advance Waleszonia up 60 feet to third with one down in the bottom half of the 10th. Zick popped out to Callahan in foul territory outside of the bag at first for the second retirement. Abbott K'ed her 22nd hitter (Howard) to end the longest game for UT since the 11-inning thriller against No. 1 Michigan at the 2005 Women's College World Series.
No. 1 Tennessee will continue its Southeastern Conference opening series at approximately 4:15 p.m. ET with the second portion of a doubleheader against No. 19/24 Florida. Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com on Gametracker, and periodic updates will be provided to the Lady Vol Hotline at 865-974-8700 (box #6). The Saturday doubleheader will be broadcast live on The Sports Animal (99.1, 99.3 FM, 990 AM) with the "Voice of the Lady Vols" Mickey Dearstone at 1 and 3 p.m. ET.