March 21, 2007
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Pitching and defense carried the day for the No. 1 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (30-2, 8-2 SEC) as junior hurler Megan Rhodes (7-1) pitched five innings of one-hit ball with six strikeouts to register her seventh victory of the season in a 1-0 shutout over South Carolina (24-9, 3-5 SEC). With the triumph, UT swept the mid-week doubleheader from USC on Wednesday at Tyson Park, upped its winning streak over the Gamecocks to 12 in a row and garnered its fifth consecutive victory overall.
Junior first baseman Tonya Callahan registered the lone RBI in the pitching struggle with a fourth-inning sacrifice fly to deep center field. Senior center fielder India Chiles was 1-for-3 at the dish, and senior center fielder Lindsay Schutzler drew the crucial lead-off walk in the fourth that was cashed in on the sac fly. Senior pitcher Monica Abbott worked two perfect innings of relief with four K's to pick up her second save of 2007.
"We played great defense, and our pitching was outstanding today," Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "We are really struggling on offense right now with some necessary changes to our line-up and without the services of two .400 hitters. We'll continue going to the drawing board and work to improve each time out. We knew coming in to this doubleheader that South Carolina would be very tough, especially with their solid defense and pitching. We saw how close their scores were against Alabama last weekend and knew their pitchers would be tough to hit."
Rhodes and South Carolina hurler Kate Pouliot opened the contest in a veritable pitcher's duel as neither offense could get much going at the plate during the opening two frames. The Gamecocks received a one out base knock from left fielder Adele Voigt in the top of the first and a two out walk from right fielder Ashton Payne in the second, but couldn't string together the big hit needed to take an early lead.
Doepking's solid day at the plate continued in the bottom of the third as the junior catcher became Tennessee's initial base runner against Pouliot by reaching on a lead-off single into right center field. Freshman third baseman Anita Manuma attempted to lay down the sacrifice bunt, but popped a ball into foul ground outside of third that was squeezed by USC's Becky Martinez for the first retirement. Sophomore shortstop Liane Horiuchi moved the runner up 60 feet with a groundout to the right side of the infield, and senior designated player India Chiles advanced Doepking to third on a high-bouncing infield single that traveled just over the outstretched glove of a leaping Pouliot in the circle. With runners at first and third and two down, freshman second baseman Nicole Kajitani hit a slow roller up the third base line that looked as if it might eventually roll foul. The sphere remained in fair territory, however, as Martinez made the routine play to first to strand a pair of Lady Vols.
South Carolina went down in order against Rhodes in the top of the fourth as catcher McKenna Hughes flied out to right, designated player Jessica Josker looked at a called third strike and shortstop Lindsay Walker popped up in foul territory to Callahan just outside of first.
The Big Orange got a dangerous base runner on to christen the bottom of the fourth as the speedy Schutzler battled to draw the first base-on-balls of the contest off Pouliot. On the first offering to freshman left fielder Erinn Webb, the base runner took off for second and successfully swiped her 15th bag of the year to achieve scoring position. Webb grounded out routinely to Lisa Longo at second to move Schutzler up 60 feet to third with still just one retired. That proved to be an important groundout as Callahan flied to deep center for a sacrifice fly to make it 1-0 and record her 21st RBI while making USC pay dearly for the lead-off walk. Tennessee entered the second game of the doubleheader against the Gamecocks a perfect 27-0 when tallying the contest's initial score.
The Nashville, Tenn., native in the circle for Tennessee continued her impressive performance in the nightcap by working another one-two-three inning in USC's half of the fifth to make it seven in a row retired by Rhodes.
Through five complete frames and maintaining a tenuous 1-0 lead, Lady Vol co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly made a call to the bullpen to bring in three-time All-American Monica Abbott in a save situation to attempt to close out Rhodes' gem. The 6-3 left hander punched out center fielder Tori Martin to make her presence felt immediately. She handled a sharp ground ball back to the circle by Payne for the second retirement, and then caught Voigt looking for her second K of the inning.
Down to their last chance in regulation, South Carolina sent Hughes to the dish hoping to start a seventh-inning rally. The USC catcher got ahead of Abbott 3-1 before the hurler rebounded to catch the batter looking for an important called strike three. Josker popped up meekly to Callahan at first for the second retirement to bring Walker up to the dish as the last chance for the Gamecocks. After working to a favorable 2-0 count, Walker ended up as Abbott's fourth strikeout victim to secure the second save of the season for the Salinas, Calif., hurler.
No. 1 Tennessee will return to action this weekend at Tyson Park by welcoming in the Arkansas Lady Razorbacks for a three-game league series. A doubleheader is currently slated for Saturday at 1 & 3 p.m., with a final contest scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. 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 doubleheader will be broadcast live on The Sports Animal (99.1, 99.3 FM, 990 AM, on Yahoo Sports through utladyvols.com) with Jeff Jacoby on the call.