April 22, 2007
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The heroic efforts of junior catcher Shannon Doepking continued into Sunday for No. 1 Tennessee (50-2, 20-2 SEC) as the Acton, Calif., native crushed a grand slam home run over the wall in deep left during the sixth inning of a eventual 5-1 victory to help the Lady Vols register their first-ever three-game sweep of Auburn (22-30, 7-18 SEC).
With the win, UT became the fastest team in Southeastern Conference history to reach the 50-win mark as the 1997 South Carolina squad required 53 games to achieve the lofty plateau. The Big Orange also set a new program winning streak record by recording their 25th straight victory overall and their 17th consecutive league triumph.
Doepking has come through in the clutch so many times for the Big Orange this season. Yesterday versus Auburn, the junior catcher drilled a sacrifice fly to center in the bottom of the eighth to guide Tennessee to a 2-1, extra-inning win. She had previously doubled in UT's first run of that contest during the fourth to tie the game at 1-1. She 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.
Freshman designated player Tiffany Huff (2-for-3, RBI) posted a clutch base knock of her own in Sunday's thriller by ripping an RBI single back through the middle in the bottom of the fifth to help UT claw out of a 1-0 hole. With that run-batted-in, the rookie improved into a tie for the team lead in RBIs with senior All-American Lindsay Schutzler at 46.
Senior pitcher Monica Abbott allowed just one earned run while striking out nine in a complete-game, four-hitter to raise her record to an NCAA Division I-best 38-1 in 2007 and 17-1 counting only SEC action. With nine more K's during the sweep-clinching win, Abbott has now climbed within just 19 strikeouts (2,247) of eclipsing the prestigious NCAA Division I career K record currently held by former Texas hurler Cat Osterman (2,265).
"Through the first five innings, this game was another duel between two of the better pitchers in the Southeastern Conference," Lady Vol co-head coach Karen Weekly said. "We made some adjustments as a team last night that we felt would help us have more success against Thompson. It was good to string together three hits in the sixth inning to break the game open. Shannon Doepking was good in every game for us during this series, and Monica Abbott was Monica Abbott. India Chiles' throw in from deep left field to nail the speedy Ashley Arcuri at third base in the sixth was a key in the game."
Abbott rolled through the top of the first by striking out second baseman Arcuri and center fielder Lauren Walton before inducing an easy infield pop-up off the bat of power-hitting first baseman Holly Currie.
Auburn's starter Anna Thompson joined Abbott in an eight-inning pitcher's duel on Saturday, and the duo seemed ready to provide a Sunday replay during the series finale. The AU hurler forced lead-off hitter India Chiles to groundout harmlessly to short to christen the bottom of the first. A pair of strikeouts ended a very quiet initial frame for both teams.
Despite an error on Tennessee to open the top of the second, Auburn couldn't manage to string together any sort of rally against Abbott. Lady Vol junior first baseman Tonya Callahan opened UT's half of the frame with a lead-off single into left field. Unfortunately for the Big Orange, Doepking's sacrifice bunt attempt was popped up just enough to allow Currie to scamper in from first and make a shoestring grab of the sphere before turning and doubling off Callahan at first for a double play. A single off the bat of Huff marked the second hit of the frame, but the double play took the life out of the Lady Vol offense as a K by Thompson concluded the inning with the contest remaining scoreless.
Tiger third baseman Nicole Russo managed to draw a lead-off walk off Abbott to open the top of the third and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by shortstop Lindsey Harrelson. With one down in the frame, Arcuri grounded out routinely to Callahan at first who handled the play by herself to record the second retirement. Auburn made UT's 6-3 left hander pay for the leadoff walk as Walton blooped a base knock just over UT shortstop Liane Horiuchi and into short left center to plate Russo with the contest's initial tally. Currie grounded a challenging ball to second, but Walton was caught leaving the bag early by first base umpire Diane Beasley to retire the side with Auburn up 1-0.
Following a quiet fourth inning and a one-two-three top of the fifth for Auburn as Abbott struck out a pair, Tennessee's clutch Doepking laced a sharp single into the gap in left center to christen a threat in UT's half of the fifth. Freshman Nicole Kajitani was summoned in to pinch run for Doepking and immediately took off for second on a steal attempt. It appeared that Auburn guessed right on the play as a pitch-out had apparently been called. AU catcher Jorja Bell's throw to the bag was very high, however, and traveled into center field for an error allowing the Tennessee base runner to reach third with no one down. That gave the freshman Huff an opportunity to tie Schutzler for the team RBI lead. The Saugus, Calif., native came through with a clutch single into center field to plate Kajitani and tie the contest at 1-1 while recording her 46th RBI of the campaign. Following consecutive pop-ups to second base by sophomores Jennifer Griffin and Horiuchi, Posey pounded a perfect slap bouncer over Russo's head at third for a single. With runners standing at first and second and two retired, the SEC's leading hitter India Chiles stepped into the batter's box with a chance to grant Tennessee its first lead of the day. The Louisville, Ky., native drove a promising shot down the line but the orb dropped about a foot into foul territory. Eventually, Chiles bounced out routinely to second to strand a pair of Lady Vols on the base paths.
Facing a tie score for the first time in the match-up, Auburn's Harrelson reached safely on a perfect bunt single to begin the Auburn sixth. Arcuri attempted to drop a sacrifice bunt, but Griffin raced in from her defensive position at third base, nabbed the sphere, turned and cut down Harrelson at second, just in the nick of time on the fielder's choice, for an important initial retirement. Abbott recorded her eighth K of the contest by punching out Walton for the second out. The ever-dangerous Currie ripped a hard grounder past Griffin and down the left field line into the corner. Chiles moved over quickly from her left field position to cut off the ball and made a perfect throw to the third base bag for an assist to nail Arcuri and retire the side.
One of Tennessee's most dangerous weapons during the 24-game winning streak has been sophomore right fielder Lillian Hammond. The Chattanooga, Tenn., native got the Big Orange off to another solid start to begin the bottom of the sixth with a lead-off bloop single over the drawn-in infield and into center field. Schutzler stepped up and ripped a base knock past second baseman Arcuri into right center field. Walton came running in to corral the sphere but overran the ball for an error allowing Hammond the chance to improve to third and Schutzler to end up in scoring position at second. Auburn's coaching staff made an interesting decision to intentionally walk Callahan to get to perhaps Tennessee's best clutch hitter over the past month, Shannon Doepking. That move proved to be one to regret as Doepking blasted a towering drive that ricocheted back onto the field from about halfway up the "Black Monster" screen past the wall in left for a game-changing grand slam as the Orange & White roared in front, 5-1. AU coach Tina Deese was forced to summon in reliever Holly Currie to spell Thompson. The new hurler managed to record three straight outs to end the frame, but not before Doepking's heroics pushed Tennessee to the brink of its sixth consecutive SEC series sweep in 2007.
Needing just three more outs to secure a new program winning streak record at 25 games, Abbott forced Finney to pop out to second baseman Posey to begin the top of the seventh. Ghezzi managed a single down the left field line and was pinch run for by Brittany Scott. The Tiger runner never left that base as designated player Krista Klein struck out swinging and Bell lined out to Callahan at first to end the contest.
No. 1 Tennessee will take to the road for the last time during the regular season over April 28-29 by traveling to Baton Rouge, La., for a vital league series against No. 6 LSU. 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). Both the opener (Sat. at 4 p.m. ET) and the series finale (Sun. at 2 p.m. ET ) versus the Bayou Bengals will be broadcast live on ESPN2.