May 7, 2009
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - No. 16 Tennessee (38-15-1) raced out to a 5-0 lead through two and a half innings and held off a spirited Tiger rally on Thursday night at the Lee Softball Stadium to defeat No. 20 LSU (32-16-1), 6-5, and advance to the Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinals on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET against No. 1 Florida (53-3).
Junior first baseman Jen Lapicki knocked in a pair of runs as part of a 1-for-4 effort at the plate. Sophomore center fielder Kelly Grieve went 2-for-4 with a run scored, a RBI and her 35th and 36th stolen bases of the season to tie the UT sophomore single-season record established back in 2005 by former Lady Vol All-American Lindsay Schutzler. Senior left fielder Lillian Hammond laced two hits in three at-bats, swiped two bags and tallied a run in the contest. Freshman third baseman Jessica Spigner (1-for-3) and rookie designated player Shelby Burchell each knocked in a tally during the match-up.
Freshman hurler Cat Hosfield picked up her 28th win of the year, allowing two runs on five hits over 6.1 innings of work from the circle with three walks and six strikeouts. Spigner worked two-thirds of a frame in relief, permitting three tallies on three hits with a pair of free passes.
"LSU didn't walk a lot of batters tonight," Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "We made it close which we've done in a lot of games this year, so, I'm proud of our team, they fought hard. This is the eighth game that's been decided in the seventh inning for us, and we have to win those. We've had a lot of close games recently. We start four freshmen and three sophomores. This is a good learning experience, and I know this is going to help them down the road, I just don't know how far down the road. We are really proud to play Florida tomorrow. I think Florida is by far the best team in the country, no question about it. We're just going to go out there and give it our best shot."
For the Bayou Bengals hurler Cody Trahan gave up six runs, four earned, on seven base knocks over four innings, while reliever Kirsten Shortridge fired three frames of two-hit relief.
In the bottom of the first inning Hosfield opened and closed the frame with strikeouts, but in between ran into a little trouble. LSU left fielder Jazz Jackson coerced a one out walk and advanced to second on a single to left from right fielder Rachel Mitchell. A fielder's choice cut down the lead runner at third and then second baseman Ashley Applegate went down on strikes as a pair of Tigers was stranded.
Spigner started the top of the second by blasting a shot to left that handcuffed LSU's Jazz Jackson for an error as the UT hitter ended up standing in scoring position. Junior right fielder Erinn Webb laced a single into short center field as Spigner rolled around to third with still no one retired. Webb took off on a steal of second and reached safely as catcher Morgan Russell's throw sailed well into center field, allowing Spigner to score the game's initial tally. After a Lady Vol strikeout, Burchell dropped a perfect bunt out in front of the plate as Webb crossed from 60 feet away for a 2-0 advantage.
Following a lead-off single from first baseman Anissa Young in the second, Tennessee made a big-time defensive play to stem any LSU momentum. Catcher Ashley Langoni bounced sharply to UT second baseman Nicole Kajitani, who corralled the ball, turned and tossed to shortstop Ashley Andrews. The Tumwater, Wash., native completed a 4-6-3 double play with a strong throw on to first.
With one retired in the top of the third the Lady Vol offense got another threat started as Kajitani singled down the left field line and advanced to second on a fielding error in the outfield. Grieve easily beat out an infield base hit to short, and quickly swiped her team-best 35th base of the season, placing a pair in scoring position. Junior catcher Tiffany Huff bounced back to the circle and reached on a fielder's choice as Trahan tried to catch Kajitani straying too far off third and never made a throw to first. Spigner stepped into the batter's box and bounced a single into the hole at short as Kajitani raced across the plate to make it 3-0. After a UT "K" marked the second out of the inning, Lapicki drove a two-RBI single past shortstop and into left center as Tennessee's advantage became 5-0.
Granted a big lead, Hosfield permitted a lead-off single to LSU third baseman Jessica Mouse opening the bottom of the third. With its hurler having allowed the initial runner to reach base for the second straight frame, the UT coaching staff brought on Spigner to throw in relief. She immediately walked then-center fielder Shortridge and allowed a bunt single to Jackson as the Bayou Bengals loaded the bags with none retired. Right fielder Rachel Mitchell bounced a ball up the middle, but Andrews raced over to corral the sphere on a solid play and threw out the runner at second as LSU cut its deficit to 5-1. Shortstop Juliana Santos added a base knock into right center as Shortridge scored to make it 5-2, UT. Following a stolen base by LSU, Applegate ripped a liner but right at Lapicki at first for out number two. Young stepped in and blasted a single through the right side of the infield, plating two more runs as the Bayou Bengals clawed within 5-4. Langoni drew a walk, placing two more aboard with a pair of outs as the move was made to replace Spigner in the circle with the original starter Hosfield. Pinch hitter Lauren Capello battled to a 3-2 count before looking at strike three as a pair of LSU runners were left stranded.
Now ahead by just a single run in the top of the fourth, Hammond singled up the middle and swiped second to reach scoring position with one out. After a Kajitani groundout to second improved the runner 60 feet to third, Grieve slapped a single back through the drawn-in infield for a RBI, giving Tennessee a 6-4 lead. Grieve took off for second and slid in safely, equaling the UT sophomore record for stolen bases set back in 2005 by former Lady Vol All-American Lindsay Schutzler. Huff dropped a slow roller to second and was called out on a close play at first as the runner remained stranded.
After Hosfield retired the Tigers one-two-three in the bottom of the fourth, Spigner christened the top of the fifth by being struck by a Trahan offering. That ended her day in the circle as Shortridge moved from center field in to pitch in relief. The LSU hurler's first offering was ruled illegal as the runner improved to second. A bouncer back to the circle from Webb was caught and tossed on to third to nail Spigner for a big initial out of the frame. A ground ball and a Lady Vol strikeout ended a once promising inning with no scoreboard damage.
LSU's Mitchell began the bottom of the fifth with a perfect bunt single up the third base line. After a wild pitch advanced the runner into scoring position, Santos grounded out to second as the base occupant moved within 60 feet of paydirt. Applegate managed a ground ball to second that Kajitani picked and tossed home but just a bit late to get the runner as LSU cut the gap back to one run at 6-5.
A perfect slap hit that checked up right in front of the plate allowed UT's Andrews to reach safely opening the top of the sixth. The runner took off for second and made it safely as Santos' tag was just late at the bag. Hammond managed to beat out an infield single to the left of the circle and swiped second, placing a pair in scoring position with still no outs. Kajitani ripped a shot but unfortunately right at Jessica Mouse at third base for the initial retirement. A strikeout got the Bayou Bengals closer to escaping a big late-inning jam. Huff grounded to mid-range short and nearly beat the throw to first, but was thrown out by a step as Tennessee maintained just a one-tally advantage.
Neither squad could make additional offensive headway as LSU stepped to the dish for its final chance in regulation in the bottom of the seventh. Mitchell bounced back to the circle as Hosfield stabbed the sphere and made the throw to first for the initial out. Santos got ahead in the count and coerced a walk to put the potential tying run on base with one retired. Applegate hit into a fielder's choice for the second out, bringing LSU's leading home run hitter to the dish in the form of Young. She got struck on the knee with a pitch as Langoni stepped in with a chance to be the heroine. Hosfield fell behind 2-1 before issuing a walk, loading the bases for pinch hitter Casey Faile. She grounded out routinely to second as Kajitani made the play to first, securing a big win for the Lady Vols.
Tennessee will battle Florida in the SEC semifinals at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday at the Lee Softball Stadium.