April 11, 2009
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - For the second time in the last two weeks, junior second baseman Nicole Kajitani delivered a walk-off hit, lacing a two-run triple with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning on Saturday evening to help No. 12 Tennessee (33-9-1, 10-6-1 SEC) rally from a 2-1 deficit to post a dramatic 3-2 win over Auburn and sweep a three-game league series at the Lee Softball Stadium.
Kajitani previously contributed a walk-off double in the fifth against Mississippi State back on March 28th as UT run-ruled the Bulldogs, 8-0 (5 inn.). The San Bernardino, Calif., native led the UT offense against Auburn by going 3-for-4 from her lead-off position in the batting order with a double, a triple, two RBIs and a run scored.
Junior first baseman Tiffany Huff went 1-for-3 at the plate with an RBI, her Southeastern Conference-leading 58th of the season. That RBI total equals her career high for season RBIs established back during her SEC All-Freshman campaign in 2007.
Freshman right hander Cat Hosfield was solid from the circle, picking up her 24th win of the year, allowing two runs on six hits with a walk and seven strikeouts in a complete game effort.
"Today was all about our pitching and Nicole Kajitani," Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "When Nicole was recruited, she was one of the top 10 players out of Los Angeles according to the Los Angeles Times. She has had her good days during her first two years, but in the last few weeks Nicole has truly established herself as a vitally important cog in our line-up. She came through today as the champion we know she is. We are proud of all three of our pitchers, but especially Danielle Pieroni and Ashton Ward. They both threw exceptionally well in today's opener. Auburn is a great team and competed very hard during this series."
The Tigers posted a two-out threat in the top of the first as left fielder Myesha Finney singled up the middle and was joined on the base paths by designated player Tatiana Fernandez via walk. Hosfield reacted to the scoring chance by striking out first baseman Amber Harrison looking.
The Lady Vols scored in the first inning for the 24th time in 2009 as Huff followed Kajitani's lead-off double and a Kelly Grieve walk with a RBI single through the left side of the infield, granting UT a quick 1-0 lead. The RBI was Huff's SEC-leading 58th of the season, tying her career high set back during her freshman campaign in 2007. With two retired in the frame, junior right fielder Erinn Webb also drew a free pass to load the bases, but a Big Orange strikeout left the trio stranded as Tennessee failed to add to their advantage.
Auburn threatened in the top of the third as second baseman Cassie Trosclair doubled into left center and then was followed by White who singled to center. With runners at the corners and no one out, Harrelson lifted a ball to left that a charging Lillian Hammond caught on the run. Trosclair tagged up and just beat the throw to the plate, tying the contest at 1-1 as White advanced to second on the toss home. That single tally was all AU would get as Hosfield tallied consecutive strikeouts of Finney and Fernandez to conclude the inning.
Freshman third baseman Jessica Spigner ripped a base hit into left center with one retired in the bottom of the third. Tennessee couldn't string together a sustained assault, however, as sophomore catcher Jen Lapicki hit into a fielder's choice that cut down the lead runner and Webb bounced out to third.
Hosfield and Auburn starter Jenee Loree kept the opposing offenses in check through the bottom of the fifth as neither team could get much going with the bats.
The Tigers finally found some offensive life in the sixth thanks to Hosfield's striking Finney with a pitch. Pinch hitter Morgan Murphy dropped a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance the runner into scoring position with just one retired. First baseman Amber Harrison lifted a fly ball into foul ground down the left field line as Pieroni moved over to make a running basket catch. She also corralled a fly ball off the bat of right fielder Taryn Gray as AU left the potential go-ahead run on second.
Eisterhold granted the Tigers a lead-off base runner in the top of the seventh on a clean single to center. Guzman sacrificed the runner up 60 feet via a bunt to third. Pinch hitter Katie Colton worked the count full before bouncing sharply to Andrews for the second out. Third baseman Kyndall White stepped in and ripped a base hit through the left side of the infield. Pieroni corralled the ball and threw to the plate, but the ball bounced away as pinch runner Megan Mitchell granted Auburn a 2-1 advantage. A bouncer back to the circle from center fielder Lindsey Harrelson ended the inning, but not before the Tigers had grabbed a late lead.
Down to Tennessee's last chance in the bottom of the seventh, Burchell christened the frame by drawing a walk. Pieroni advanced freshman pinch runner Holly Baker into scoring position via a perfect sacrifice bunt out in front of the plate. Andrews continued the late rally by singling just over third base and into left field as Baker raced into third with just one out. That set the stage for Kajitani's heroics as she stepped to the dish and blasted a triple down the right field line and into the corner as Baker and Andrews scored for the 3-2 walk-off victory.
No. 12 Tennessee steps briefly out of conference play on Tuesday, April 14th, with a 6 p.m. ET contest against ETSU. Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com.