April 21, 2007
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - No. 1 Tennessee (49-2, 19-2 SEC) secured its third Southeastern Conference Eastern Division Championship and tied the program record for longest winning streak at 24 games by outlasting Auburn (22-29, 7-17 SEC), 2-1 (eight inn.), to sweep a Saturday doubleheader in front of a facility record 1,483 fans at Tyson Park. The old attendance mark of 1,425 was set last May 27, 2006, during the NCAA Super Regionals against Michigan.
In the bottom of the eighth frame, junior catcher Shannon Doepking (1-for-2, two RBI) continued her heroics by driving a towering walk-off sacrifice fly to center to plate senior center fielder Lindsay Schutzler from third and conclude UT's 2-1, extra-inning win. She had previously doubled in the bottom of the fourth against Auburn to score pinch runner Caitlin Ryan from second with UT's other tally. The Acton, Calif., native has come through in the clutch several times for the Big Orange this season. Doepking contributed a two-run walk-off homer in the seventh inning of a 2-0 home triumph against South Carolina on March 21. She delivered an RBI double in the bottom of the eighth inning during a 2-1 win over Mississippi State on March 17 and laced a run-scoring single down the right field line in the Lady Vols' 1-0 victory at Ole Miss on March 14.
Senior pitcher Monica Abbott struck out 19 batters through eight innings of work while allowing four hits and one earned run to improve to her record to an NCAA Division I-best 37-1 on the season and 16-1 in SEC action. With 19 K's during the 2-1 (eight inn.) victory over AU, Abbott has now climbed within just 28 strikeouts (2,238) of eclipsing the prestigious NCAA Division I career K record currently held by former Texas hurler Cat Osterman (2,265).
"In the opener we were really able to do a lot of damage with our speed game by stealing bases and getting a lot of big base hits," Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "The second contest was a classic fast pitch game between two very good pitchers in Monica Abbott and Anna Thompson. It took our team a while to adjust to Thompson's pitching ability and unique throwing motion. Shannon Doepking came through with another clutch RBI on her sacrifice fly to deep center. India Chiles continued her hot hitting for our team. We were also pleased with the way Tonya Callahan swung the bat in the first game."
After the offensive fireworks registered in the opener by the Lady Vols, game two quickly devolved into a pitcher's duel between Abbott and Auburn's ace Thompson.
Through the opening three frames, the two teams each managed just a single base runner. Auburn left fielder Myesha Finney was struck by an Abbott offering with one out in the top of the second, while UT's Callahan walked to lead-off the bottom half of the second.
The Tigers finally broke through with a run in the top of the fourth as designated player Holly Currie hammered a high fly to right that just cleared the wall for a home run to grant AU a 1-0 advantage. A single immediately followed off the bat of right fielder Sara Ghezzi. A fielder's choice from Finney cut down the lead runner at second for out number two. Abbott followed by recording her 10th K of the match-up on a strikeout of first baseman Whitney Wyatt to conclude Auburn's half of the frame. By reaching strikeout number 10, it marked the 110th occasion in her illustrious career that the 6-3 left hander had punched out 10 or more in a single contest.
Tennessee's offense came alive with two down in the bottom of the fourth as Callahan christened a crucial rally by drawing her second walk of the contest. In need of a big hit, the clutch Doepking came through with a long double over the head of Auburn's Finney in left field and off the wall to plate pinch runner Caitlin Ryan and tie the match-up at 1-1.
Abbott struck out catcher Jorja Bell, third baseman Nicole Russo and shortstop Lindsey Harrelson in order in the top of the fifth to bring the Lady Vols to the plate searching for its first lead.
With one down in the bottom of the fifth, Hammond dropped a perfect bunt out in front of the plate and beat the throw to first to grant UT a speedy base runner. The Chattanooga, Tenn., native took off for second on a steal attempt and appeared safe, but over slid the bag to record the second out. Lady Vol second baseman Kenora Posey laced a bouncer to the circle that Auburn pitcher Thompson nabbed easily before turning and making a high throw to first for an error allowing the runner to reach safely. Chiles singled to short, and Schutzler walked to load the bases for freshman designated player Tiffany Huff. The Saugus, Calif., native drove a high fly ball to deep center field, but just missed a grand slam as AU's Lauren Walton tracked the sphere down at the base of the center field wall to leave the trio stranded on the basepaths and maintain the 1-1 tie.
Auburn seriously threatened in the top of the sixth as second baseman Ashley Arcuri guided a lead-off single into center field. A sacrifice bunt off the bat of Walton advanced the runner up 60 feet into scoring position with the power-hitting Currie venturing to the dish. Co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly made the call to intentionally walk Currie, and the move paid off as Abbott struck out Ghezzi to register her 14th strikeout of the contest. Finney was struck by an Abbott offering to load the bases, but Auburn's Wyatt went down swinging on three consecutive pitches to leave the bags juiced and end the Tigers' dangerous threat.
Abbott struck out the side in the top of the seventh to bring Tennessee to the dish with the final opportunity in regulation to break the deadlock. Unfortunately for the Big Orange, Horiuchi popped up to second base for the first out. Freshman right fielder Erinn Webb went down swinging to mark the second retirement. Posey laced a little blooper into short left field that threatened to drop in for a single. Auburn's Finney raced in from her defensive position in left and dove for the ball, but apparently trapped the sphere allowing Posey to reach. Sophomore Danielle Pieroni was brought into the contest to pinch hit for Chiles, but went down swinging to leave the runner stranded and bring on extra frames.
The Orange & White entered the afternoon a perfect 3-0 in extra-inning tilts during the 2007 campaign with wins over North Carolina (2-1 in eight inn.), Florida (1-0 in 10 inn.) and Mississippi State (2-1 in eight inn.).
Auburn's Arcuri reached successfully to open the eighth by drawing a lead-off base-on-balls. A sacrifice bunt from Walton advanced the runner into scoring position as the Weeklys' again chose to intentionally walk the dangerous Currie. Having faced basically the same situation in the sixth, the move to create the intentional pass again paid dividends for Tennessee as Ghezzi went down on strikes and Finney popped out harmlessly to Posey at second.
Schutzler battled Thompson for an important lead-off walk to open the bottom half of the eighth and swiped second to reach scoring position venturing into the middle of UT's potent batting order. With Huff standing at the plate, Thompson uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Schutzler the opportunity to advance within just 60 feet from paydirt. As a result, Auburn coach Tina Deese chose to intentionally walk both Huff and Callahan to load the bases and set up the force situation at every base with still no outs. The Tigers' coaching decision didn't matter as Doepking drove the sacrifice fly to center to plate Schutzler and conclude the match-up.
No. 1 Tennessee will complete its series against Auburn on Sunday at 2 p.m. ET at Tyson Park. 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). The finale will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Net as part of the SEC-TV package with Bernie Guenther and Cheri Kempf on the call.