March 17, 2007
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - For the second time this season during Southeastern Conference play and third time overall, the No. 1 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (27-2, 5-2 SEC) was pushed to extra innings before emerging victorious as Mississippi State (17-13, 2-5 SEC) battled UT through eight frames before succumbing to the Big Orange by a 2-1 count. Junior third baseman Tonya Callahan doubled to open the eighth and set the stage for a walk-off, RBI-double off the bat of junior catcher Shannon Doepking to secure the triumph.
Senior pitcher Monica Abbott allowed two hits over four innings of work while striking out five to record victory number 21 in relief of starter Megan Rhodes (4 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 5 K). Callahan was 3-for-3 at the plate with two singles, a double and a walk to lead the offense, while Doepking went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Senior center fielder Lindsay Schutzler knocked in Tennessee's initial tally in the bottom of the second as part of her 2-for-4 effort.
"We played most of today's doubleheader without the contributions of a couple of kids who have been regulars in our line-up this season," Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "We were a little off tempo offensively today. Monica Abbott and Megan Rhodes both pitched really well for us, and our team got the key hits when we needed them. Specifically, Alexia Clay's RBI single in the sixth inning of the first game, and Doepking's game-winner following Callahan's lead-off double in the eighth inning of game two."
Rhodes worked a perfect top of the first inning to bring up the Lady Vol offense with hopes of breaking on top early. UT almost pulled it off as Chiles singled on a high bouncer to MSU first baseman Sammie Jo Bailey and took the risk of swiping second despite her existing left shoulder injury. She was joined on the base paths by Callahan with two outs as the Holden, Mo., native drew a walk against Bulldog hurler Kelli Miller. Unfortunately for the Big Orange, freshman right fielder Alexia Clay looked at strike three to end the frame and leave a pair stranded.
With Rhodes in firm control early on in the circle, the Orange & White got off to a good start in the bottom of the second as Doepking singled into right field to lead-off the frame. Following a pop-out by freshman third baseman Anita Manuma, a crucial error on MSU second baseman Chelsea Bramlett allowed sophomore shortstop Liane Horiuchi to reach safely. A strikeout got the Bulldogs close to escaping the jam, but Schutzler drove a two-out single up the middle to plate pinch runner Caitlin Ryan for a 1-0 advantage. Freshman pinch hitter Erinn Webb ripped a lazer to short, but the orb traveled right to Mississippi State All-American Courtney Bures to end the frame.
In the top of the third, catcher Blair Hewett became the first Bulldog to reach base against Rhodes by blooping a single into short center field with one down. The base runner was of little consequence as UT's hurler induced a pop-up to second by right fielder Michelle Kenney and concluded the frame with an impressive change-up to strikeout Bramlett looking.
Callahan delivered a one-out single through the hole between third and short with one down in the bottom of the third. Clay stepped in the box and ripped a threatening ground ball down to MSU's Jessie Bailey, but the Bulldog fielder made an impressive pick before throwing on to second to cut down Callahan on a fielder's choice. Bailey completed an impressive individual defensive frame by handling a tough chance on a ball off the bat of Doepking to close the inning with no scoring.
Left fielder Nakita Boyce granted Mississippi State a dangerous lead-off runner to start the fourth as the Bulldog drew a free pass from Rhodes. Center fielder Hayle Guess dropped a potential sacrifice bunt, but Callahan raced from her position at first to make a quick play on the sphere. She turned and threw to Horiuchi covering second to nab the lead runner on a fielder's choice for the initial out. The play became doubly important as Rhodes struck Bures with a 2-2 offering to give MSU runners at first and second. Jessie Bailey stepped in the box and drove an RBI single into left field to bring Guess home to knot the score at 1-1. With the Maroon and White still threatening, Sammie Jo Bailey lined a shot that threatened to escape up the middle. Rhodes made an outstanding grab of the liner, however, turned and threw on to Callahan at first to complete a clutch inning-ending double play and maintain the 1-1 tie.
Despite the low-scoring affair, both teams made pitching moves in the fifth as Abbott came into the contest to begin the frame and worked a one-two-three inning with one K. Mississippi State summoned in new hurler Sara Hickerson in relief in the bottom half, and she rolled through the first two Lady Vol hitters she faced before walking freshman designated player Tiffany Huff. Callahan continued the two-out assault by lifting a little pop fly into short center that found a spot to drop between Bures and Guess to advance the runner to third with two down. Clay stepped into the box and quickly found herself down 0-2 before popping up to Jessie Bailey in foul territory outside of third to leave a pair stranded.
In the top of the sixth, Abbott struck out Bramlett and Boyce to up her strikeout total to three in the contest before Guess drove a change-up into the gap in left center. Schutzler raced over from her center field position to cut the ball off, turned and fired a perfect strike to Posey covering at second base to nail Guess and end the inning with the score still at 1-1.
Bures launched a shot into the gap in right center to lead-off the top of the seventh, but she stumbled turning first limiting her to a very long single. That trip was important as Jessie Bailey grounded sharply to Callahan at first. The Holden, Mo., product threw to Horiuchi covering at second, and she hurled her throw in time to Posey covering first for a crucial 3-6-4 double play. Abbott K'ed Sammie Jo Bailey to grant UT the last chance in regulation to break the deadlock.
Tennessee's Schutzler led-off the bottom of the seventh with a bouncer up the middle. Webb was asked to sacrifice the runner up 60 feet, but the rookie popped up her attempt to Jessie Bailey racing in from her position at third. Huff was retired on an infield fly, and Schutzler was cut down attempting to swipe second in a 2-4 put out as catcher Blair Hewett threw to a covering Katie Johnson to send the two teams to extra innings.
Abbott worked a perfect top of the eighth to bring up the Lady Vol offense needing just one run to win the contest. Callahan delivered her third base knock of the match-up with a double to the wall in right center and was immediately lifted for pinch runner Lillian Hammond. After a foul out by sophomore right fielder Danielle Pieroni, Doepking stepped to the dish and drove her game-winning double to the wall in left center to plate Hammond and secure the extra-inning victory for the Big Orange.
No. 1 Tennessee will complete its three-game series with Mississippi State at Tyson Park in Knoxville, Tenn., at 12:30 p.m. ET on Sunday. 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 finale will be broadcast live on The Sports Animal (99.1, 99.3 FM, 990 AM) with Jeff Jacoby and Ashlie Goble on the call.