March 30, 2012
By Brian Davis, Assistant Media Relations Director
KNOXVILLE, Tenn.- An uncharacteristic three errors by UT on Friday night at the Lee Softball Stadium helped tell part of the story as the #9 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (25-8, 7-5 Southeastern Conference) also watched Kentucky's offense bang out nine hits in emerging victorious from its series opener over the Lady Vols, 5-3.
UT senior right fielder Shelby Burchell led Tennessee's eight-hit output by going 2-for-3 at the dish with two RBIs, while junior center fielder Kat Dotson was 2-for-4. Junior first baseman Melissa Brown was 1-for-4 with a RBI while extending her career-long hitting streak to eight games.
In the circle sophomore pitcher Ellen Renfroe (18-2) suffered her first defeat since March 11, allowing three earned runs on nine hits with a walk and 10 strikeouts over 6.2 innings of effort. Freshman Cheyanne Tarango was summoned into the contest in relief, permitting one tally while walking one and posting a K over one-third of a frame.
"Kentucky played a fantastic game tonight and was most deserving of this win," Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. "I take full responsibility for our performance. I changed the line-up tonight in three spots, which I normally don't do. I think this is the time of season we need to be playing the kids we've been playing all along. I think that's what put us off stride, but again Kentucky beat us."
Things got off to a quick start for the Wildcats in the top of the first as shortstop Kara Dill drilled the first pitch from Renfroe to deep center. It proved a tough play in the outfield as the Lady Vol fielder got twisted around and had the ball elude her on a leap for a lead-off triple. Renfroe retired third baseman Brittany Cervantes via strikeout before hitting designated player Rachel Riley with a pitch. UT's 6-0 right-hander in the circle personally took it upon herself to end the threat, handling a roller to the right of the circle from catcher Griffin Joiner before nabbing a pop-up from pitcher Ellen Weaver to leave a UK duo stranded.
It was a bit of déjà vu in the bottom of the first, as junior third baseman Raven Chavanne christened Tennessee's half of the first with UT's very own lead-off three-bagger, the Thousand Oaks, Calif., product's third of the season. With one down in the frame, sophomore shortstop Madison Shipman walked and swiped her ninth base of the campaign, placing a pair of UT runners in scoring position. It proved to be the shortest hit of the inning that paid the true dividends for Tennessee as Brown hit a swinging bunt up the line in the perfect spot for a RBI as Chavanne scored to make it 1-0.
The Wildcats managed to jump in front during the top of the third after a lead-off double by left fielder Ginny Carroll that hit off the edge of the glove of a diving Chavanne on the third base line. Dill registered her second hit of the contest on a high chopper back through the middle as Carroll rolled around from second, tying the count at 1-1. Cervantes kept the threat going with a RBI base knock into right center as another tally crossed to grant UK a 2-1 advantage. The fourth consecutive hit of the inning, this one a single by Riley and a Lady Vol error in left field, placed Wildcats at the corners with still no one retired. With one down in the frame, another fielding miscue on the Big Orange permitted Cervantes to score from third. Back-to-back K's by Renfroe finally ended the Kentucky outburst but not before the `Cats had secured a 3-1 lead.
After two consecutive shots back to the circle that were nabbed by Weaver in the bottom of the fifth, the third straight such hit off the bat of Dotson ricocheted off the hurler for a single. The Savannah, Ga., native advanced to second on a wild pitch but was left in scoring position via a Lady Vol strikeout.
A stretch of five strikeouts over six batters for Renfroe in the top of the fifth and sixth ended suddenly as Carroll blasted a solo HR to left with two outs for a 4-1 lead. Tarango was summoned into the contest in relief, and despite another Lady Vol miscue, a stolen base and a wild pitch, got Tennessee out of the frame with a strikeout of Cervantes.
Down to Tennessee's last six outs, junior second baseman Lauren Gibson started the bottom of the sixth with a lead-off base knock through the infield. Brown hit a chopper to second that was thrown away by Krystal Smith for an error while attempting to nail the lead runner as UT posted a pair in scoring position with no one retired. A blooper off the bat of Burchell dropped just over the UK infield for a clutch base knock as two Lady Vols scored, cutting UT's deficit to 4-3. Unfortunately, after a Melissa Davin walk put a pair on base for the Big Orange, consecutive strikeouts and a foul out down the left field line left the Tennessee duo on the bags.
The `Cats manufactured a big insurance tally in the top of the seventh, extending their advantage to a pair of runs. Tarango walked Rachel Riley to begin the inning, which prompted Renfroe to reenter the circle for the Big Orange. She immediately struck out Joiner to register the first out, but the pitch went wide and allowed the base runner to move up to second. A single by Weaver stationed a pair of Wildcats on the corners, with Krystal Smith plating the run after shooting a base knock out to left. Renfroe would retire the next two hitters, as O'Brien popped out to second and Weaver sent a grounder to third.
Dotson granted the Big Orange offense some life during its final chance in regulation with a lead-off infield single by sending a liner back to the pitcher who could only deflect it. Back-to-back walks to Shipman and Gibson packed the bases full of Lady Vols with still none out in the bottom of the seventh. A shot of the bat of Brown to second was gloved by Smith, who fired it home to Joiner for the force, starting a crucial 4-2-3 double play. On the ensuing pitch Bell would plunk Burchell to again put a trio of Lady Vols on the base paths, but she would record the final out via strikeout to give Kentucky the victory in the opening game of the weekend.