April 15, 2007
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Chalk up another challenging weather day faced by No. 1 Tennessee (46-2, 16-2 SEC) as the Lady Vols fought through mid-20's wind chills and blustery conditions, including winds that were gusting as high as 30 mph, to down Kentucky (19-20, 4-14 SEC), 8-2, in the first game of a Sunday doubleheader at the UK Softball Complex in Lexington, Ky., and register UT's 21st consecutive victory. The two teams will complete their three-game set at approximately 3:20 p.m. ET despite the frigid playing conditions.
Lady Vol lead-off hitter and senior left fielder India Chiles went 2-of-4 in the doubleheader opener to keep her Southeastern Conference-only batting average at an impressive .592 (29-of-49) through 16 league games played. The Louisville, Ky., native has now recorded two or more base knocks in her last eight SEC tilts while recording a .767 average on a 23-of-30 performance at the plate. Senior center fielder Lindsay Schutzler extended her career-best hitting streak to 12 games with a 1-for-4 effort at the dish with a run scored, while sophomore Danielle Pieroni blasted her first collegiate home run with a towering grand slam during a four-run second frame. Sophomore third baseman Jennifer Griffin went 1-for-1 with a solo homer and two walks, while junior first baseman Tonya Callahan and freshman Alexia Clay each tallied a hit and an RBI as UT banged out 12 base knocks in the victory.
Abbott improved her overall record to 35-1 this season and 14-1 in the SEC by striking out 16 Wildcats through seven innings. She allowed two runs on five hits while improving her season K total to 492. The 6-3 lefthander currently stands just 58 strikeouts (2,208) from eclipsing the prestigious NCAA Division I career K record currently held by former Texas hurler Cat Osterman (2,265).
Schutzler's blistering speed keyed a two-out Tennessee rally in the top of the first as the center fielder bounced a ball deep into the hole at short for a single. The Monterey, Calif., native swiped her 28th base of the season to reach scoring position. Callahan stepped into the batter's box in the RBI situation and came through by ripping a hard grounder up the middle to bring Schutzler across the dish for a 1-0 advantage. Entering today's action, the Lady Vols were a perfect 20-0 when scoring in the first inning and 39-0 when recording the opening score of the match-up. Huff bounced out harmlessly to second to end the rally, but UT had already jumped in front with one run on two hits.
For the second consecutive game in the series, Wildcats' second baseman Natalie Smith registered a lead-off single down the left field line to open UK's half of the first. Following a sacrifice bunt by left fielder Audrey Meyer to advance the runner to second, Tennessee co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly made the decision to intentionally walk Brooke Marnitz, the Southeastern Conference's current leader in home runs and RBI. The move paid dividends as Abbott struck out designated player Katie Campbell for the fourth time over two contests to record the second retirement. UK third baseman Molly Johnson popped a ball high into the fierce winds on the infield. UT second baseman Kenora Posey circled under the orb and squeezed the sphere to retire the side and leave a pair of Wildcats stranded on the basepaths.
The lead-off batter reached safely for the Big Orange in the top of the second as Kentucky starting pitcher Jennifer Young hit Doepking with a pitch to christen the frame. Webb followed by driving a hard ground ball up the middle for a single to improve the situation to runners at first and second with no one retired. That's when Young began having trouble finding the plate as Griffin walked to load the bases for Horiuchi. The Wahiawa, Hawaii, native worked the count to 3-1 before lacing a sharp grounder to short. UK's Marnitz managed to corral the bouncer, however, and threw to catcher Alli Eckman at home for the force. In almost a instant replay of Horiuchi's ground ball, Chiles made solid contact but drove her ground ball straight to Marnitz, who again threw to the plate for the force, as Tennessee's once promising inning quickly looked as if it might amount to little. With two down the Weeklys summoned in Pieroni to pinch hit for the slapper Posey, and the move paid off tremendously. The Madison, Tenn., product made her first career home run count as Pieroni's blast to right easily cleared the wall for a grand slam to clean the basepaths and push Tennessee in front by a more comfortable 5-0 total. A fly out to left concluded the assault, but not before the Orange & White had managed to plate four runs on just two hits, a hit by pitch and a walk.
Despite allowing a two-out single to first baseman Ashley Dimkich, Abbott struck out the Kentucky side in the bottom of the second as Eckman, center fielder Ashley Fertic and right fielder Destinee Mordecai went down on strikes to improve the 6-3 left hander's K total to four through two frames.
Following a pair of strikeouts by Abbott to christen Kentucky's half of the third, Marnitz lifted a base hit to shallow right center to give UK a two-out base runner. Campbell was struck by a pitch to place runners at first and second, but Abbott responded to the threat by punching out third baseman Molly Johnson to strand two more Wildcats.
The Lady Vol lead grew to six runs starting off the top of the fourth inning as Griffin worked from a 1-2 to a 3-2 count before hammering a towering blast to deep left center that cleared the wall for a solo home run, her third big fly of 2007. Following a foul out outside of third by Horiuchi, Chiles reached safely on a perfect bunt up the first base line. Bidding for a stolen base, Chiles was thrown out for just the second time this season in 33 attempts as the catcher Eckman made a perfect throw to Marnitz covering the bag for the second out. Posey bounced out sharply to Young in the circle to retire the side with Tennessee up 6-0.
Desperately in need of base runners heading into the bottom of the fourth, Kentucky's Eckman managed a lead-off walk off Abbott. With a strong wind gusting as high as 30 mph out to right, Fertic hit a towering fly ball in that direction that just cleared the wall for a two-run homer to cut the deficit to 6-2. A visit to the circle by UT pitching coach Marty McDaniel settled down Abbott as the Salinas, Calif., native rebounded to immediately strikeout Dimkich to record her eighth K of the contest and become just the second pitcher in NCAA Division I history to reach the 2,200-strikeout plateau. Pinch hitter Gina Florence went down swinging for the second retirement, and Smith's bunt to third was handled by UT's Griffin to end the inning with no further scoring damage.
The K count grew to 12 in the bottom of the fifth as Abbott struck out Meyer, Marnitz and Campbell to secure the 109th 10-strikeout contest of her illustrious career. Kentucky's Campbell entered the weekend hitting .375 with 11 home runs, but through the first 12 innings of the series with Tennessee had been retired on strikes five times in six at-bats versus Abbott.
Doepking began the Big Orange half of the sixth by singling back to the circle and was joined on the basepaths by Griffin with one out as the Whittier, Calif., native drew a free pass from Young. Freshman pinch hitter Alexia Clay was summoned in to bat for Horiuchi and came through with a 3-2 base hit up the middle to plate Doepking for a 7-2 lead. With runners standing at second and third, Chiles delivered a bloop single down the left field line. The ball wasn't far enough away from the converging fielders to convince the runners that the ball would drop granting them an opportunity to advance. Horiuchi strayed off second and got caught in a rundown between second and third. Chiles raced into second behind the rundown, and Griffin moved off third toward the plate in an attempt to score during the chaos. The UK fielders turned their attention from Horiuchi to Griffin and her attempt to advance toward home. The Wildcats managed to get her in a rundown with Horiuchi scrambling safely into third behind the play. Eckman tagged out Griffin to end the 7-5-4-2 rundown and mark the second retirement of the inning. Posey dropped a bunt that Young handled herself to end the threat with UT leading 7-2.
An error granted the Wildcats a lead-off base runner in the form of Johnson in the bottom of the sixth. Eckman followed with a clean base knock into right field to establish a full-blown scoring rally with occupants at first and second and no one retired. Abbott responded to the Wildcat threat like the three-time All-American she is by striking out Fertic, Dimkich and Mordecai to record her 13th, 14th and 15th K's and up Kentucky's stranded base runner total to seven for the match-up.
Consecutive two-out doubles from Huff and Doepking in the top of the seventh plated another Lady Vol run to improve the count to 8-2 venturing to Kentucky's final offensive chance in regulation play.
Smith opened the bottom half of the seventh by lacing a fly ball down the left field line that Chiles tracked down in foul ground for the first out. Meyer also fouled out just off to the side of third base, and Marnitz struck out for the second time to conclude the contest.
No. 1 Tennessee's next action after Kentucky will be at the State Line Classic in Bristol, Tenn., on Tuesday, April 17, when the Lady Vols face Radford in a single contest at 5:30 p.m. Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com, and periodic updates will be provided to the Lady Vol Hotline at 865-974-8700 (box #6).