May 6, 2007
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - What a truly historic day for the No. 2 Tennessee softball program on a gorgeous Sunday in front of a record crowd of 1,836 fans at Tyson Park. The Big Orange (53-4, 23-4 SEC) rewarded fans that had lined up outside the ticket booth as early as 6:15 a.m. in order to see the country's first 1-2 matchup of the season by sweeping No. 1 Alabama (50-6, 21-6 SEC) in a doubleheader (9-2, 4-0) to clinch their first Southeastern Conference regular season title. No. 4 LSU lost 2-of-3 at Georgia.
Senior pitcher Monica Abbott added to the day's celebration by breaking the prestigious NCAA Division I career strikeout record with her first K, number 2,266. With the sweep, the Lady Vols also clinched the top seed for next weekend's SEC Tournament in Auburn, Ala.
Junior first baseman Tonya Callahan led the offensive onslaught by hitting an incredible .833 (6-of-7) during the doubleheader with her 10th home run of the season and six RBI. The Holden, Mo., product went 3-of-4 with five RBI in the opener. Sophomore shortstop Liane Horiuchi hit .667 (4-of-6) with an RBI, while senior left fielder India Chiles was 4-of-6 (.667) with a perfect 3-for-3 effort in the opener. With her stellar effort against the Crimson Tide on her "Senior Day," the Louisville, Ky., native Chiles also raised her SEC-only batting average even higher to a league-best .544 (43-of-79). In all, nine different Lady Vols registered at least one base knock over the two contests, while Tennessee hit .411 as a team with 23 hits and 13 total runs scored.
The top-rated UT pitching staff limited the nation's No. 1 offense in Alabama to just a .226 batting average and only two runs on the day as Abbott improved to 40-2 in the opener while garnering her career-high fifth save in relief of junior Megan Rhodes in the finale. Rhodes, a Nashville, Tenn., native struck out five over four innings of work in the 4-0 UT win to improve her record to 13-2 overall.
"We are very proud of our team," Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "Alabama was everything they were advertised to be. They are well coached and a great team in every single aspect. It's terrific to win, but it's even better when it comes over a team as good as Alabama. Monica Abbott has established herself as one of the top pitchers in the history of the game. Today, she was at her best for our team. We continue to be led offensively by Lindsay Schutzler, Tonya Callahan and India Chiles. It was great to get production, like we know we can, out of players such as Liane Horiuchi and Anita Manuma. Now, it's important that we move on as a team and focus our attention on the SEC Tournament, because we will be facing some of the best teams in the nation starting on Thursday in Auburn, Ala."
Game One (Tennessee 9-2 W)
Tennessee's No. 1 rated defense made a statement early on in the top of the first against the Crimson Tide as Callahan handled a tough bouncer from center fielder Brittany Rogers and second baseman Kenora Posey dove to her left to corral a ground ball to retire speedy designated player Jordan Praytor. That set up an historic moment as first baseman Charlotte Morgan fouled off numerous pitches before swinging and missing at a high 71 mph rise ball (according to ESPN's radar gun). She became strikeout victim 2,266 of Abbott's career, at 1:10 p.m. on Sunday, and broke former Texas hurler Cat Osterman's NCAA Division I record.
Senior Day honorees Chiles and Lindsay Schutzler got the Lady Vol offense off and running against Bama's Chrissy Owens. Chiles singled on a bunt back to the circle to lead-off the bottom of the first and swiped her team-best 38th base of the campaign to achieve scoring position. Schutzler joined her on the base paths by drawing a free pass to set the situation at first and second with no one down. Callahan went down swinging against Owens for the first out, but Huff came through with a clutch single up the middle to plate Chiles for a 1-0 advantage. On the play, Alabama's Rogers over ran the ball in center for an error allowing Schutzler to advance all the way to third on the play. Doepking bounced to second allowing Crimson Tide second baseman Lauren Parker the opportunity to throw home to catcher Ashley Holcombe to retire Schutzler on a slide at the plate. Freshman designated player Anita Manuma walked to load the bags, but a strikeout of freshman right fielder Erinn Webb ended the frame and left three Lady Vols stranded.
A single from Horiuchi in the top of the second granted the Lady Vols a lead-off base runner for the second consecutive frame. Junior second baseman Kenora Posey laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance the runner into scoring position. Chiles walked to place runners at first and second with one out. Schutzler reached on a fielding error by UA shortstop Kellie Eubanks allowing Horiuchi to cross for a 2-0 lead. On the play, Schutzler was caught straying too far off first base as Alabama threw behind her to record the second out. Callahan followed with a clutch single through the left side to score Chiles and improve the count to 3-0.
The Crimson & White answered right back in the top of the third as Alabama strung together two runs on three hits against Abbott. Eubanks led off the inning with a walk and advanced to second on a base knock from center fielder Brittany Rogers. Designated player Jordan Praytor followed with a single to load the bags with still no one retired. Following an infield pop-up by first baseman Charlotte Morgan, second baseman Lauren Parker delivered a sacrifice fly to left center to cut the deficit to 3-1. Left fielder Mandy Burford laced an RBI single through the left side of the infield to make it 3-2.
Tennessee's offense added on to its advantage in the bottom of the fourth as consecutive singles by Chiles and Schutzler and a double off the bat of Callahan plated two more runs with no one out for a 5-2 lead.
With Abbott keeping the Crimson Tide from closing the gap any further, UT erupted for four scores in the bottom of the sixth. A lead-off free pass to junior catcher Shannon Doepking got the offense ignited, and Manuma ripped a two-bagger to the wall in left center to put two runners on with none retired. Horiuchi bounced a ball to third that Kelley Montalvo threw away into the UA dugout for an error allowing two more Tennessee runners to cross the plate. That signaled the end of the day in the circle for starter Owens as Alabama coach Patrick Murphy summoned in pitcher Allison Moore in relief. The new hurler got out the inning eventually, but not before walking Schutzler and permitting a two-RBI single to Callahan to up the tally to 9-2 in Tennessee's favor.
Despite hitting a batter, allowing a one out single to Rogers in the top of the seventh and having the bases loaded on an infield error, Abbott struck out Praytor and induced a fielder's choice off the bat of Morgan to end the contest.
Game Two (Tennessee 4-0 W)
The day's second contest started off with fewer fireworks than the offensive explosion seen in the opener between the nation's top two teams.
Despite several threats by both squads, Tennessee got on the board first in the bottom of the third as a Horiuchi lead-off single, a sacrifice bunt by freshman Nicole Kajitani and a Schutzler RBI-base knock plated UT's initial tally.
Alabama stranded base runners in each inning except the first as the Crimson Tide couldn't manage the clutch hit needed against starter Rhodes or Abbott to garner a lead or cut into the eventual four-run deficit.
With UT's No. 1-ranked pitching staff and defense combining to keep the UA attack under some semblance of control, Tennessee added another run in the bottom of the fourth on an RBI single up the middle from Horiuchi. On the base hit, Alabama center fielder Rogers saved a score by gunning down junior third baseman Jennifer Griffin at the plate as the Whittier, Calif., native was attempting to score from second.
With one retired in the bottom of the fifth, Callahan continued her amazing day at the dish by blasting her team-high 10th home run of the season deep over the wall in left to make it 3-0, Orange & White. Doepking christened a little two-out threat by delivering a single to left. Manuma followed with a walk and Griffin laced a sharp bouncer just inside the third base line for an RBI single to improve the score to 4-0.
Rogers led off Bama's last chance in the seventh with a single deep into the hole at short, but was stranded right there as Abbott struck out Praytor, third baseman Alex Blewitt and Burford in order to secure the SEC regular-season title for the Big Orange.
The top-seeded Lady Vols will open defense of their SEC Tournament title in Auburn, Ala., on Thursday, May 10, against eight-seeded Ole Miss at 8:30 p.m. ET. Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com, and periodic updates will be provided to the Lady Vol Hotline (865) 974-8700 (Box #6).