May 10, 2007
AUBURN, Ala. - On Thursday night in front of 731 fans at Jane B. Moore Field in Auburn, Ala., No. 1 Tennessee (54-4) rode the arm of senior pitcher Monica Abbott and a nine-hit offensive attack to a 6-0 victory over Ole Miss (24-34) during the opening round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. With the victory, UT advances on to face No. 4 seed Florida in the semifinals on Friday, May 11, at 8:30 p.m. ET. The Sports Animal will broadcast the game live on AM 990 with the "Voice of the Lady Vols" Mickey Dearstone on the call.
Junior first baseman Tonya Callahan led the offensive attack with a 1-for-3 effort at the dish and a two-RBI double in the third inning. The Holden, Mo., native and reigning USA Softball, National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) and SEC Player of the Week has now produced eight RBI over her last three contests while hitting an impressive .633 (6-of-9). Senior left fielder India Chiles and freshman catcher Tiffany Huff each delivered a 2-of-3 performance at the plate with a run scored. Freshman right fielder Erinn Webb and sophomore third baseman Jennifer Griffin both recorded an RBI in the contest.
Senior pitcher Monica Abbott was again outstanding in the circle for the Orange & White by tossing a one-hitter with 14 strikeouts to improve her NCAA Division I-leading record to 41-2 on the season. The Salinas, Calif., product now boasts 574 strikeouts on the year to stand just 89 K's from tying the NCAA single-season strikeout record of 663 set by former Southern Miss hurler Courtney Blades in 2000. The 6-3 left hander is also only 29 strikeouts from equaling her school single-season record of 603 K's established in 2005.
"Ole Miss came out ready to throw punches and made it very tough on us in the opening part of the game," Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "We were able to get the offense untracked in the third inning with India Chiles and Lindsay Schutzler and a big hit from Tonya Callahan. From that point on, we were hitting with more confidence and finished the game strong. Monica Abbott pitched really well, and Huff played solidly behind the plate."
An illegal pitch call by first baseman umpire Jerry Bark on the game's initial offering started the proceedings off with a little controversy and seemed to unnerve Abbott for a brief minute as the 6-3 lefthander fell behind leadoff hitter Mary Jane Callahan, 3-0. After battling back to a full count, Abbott coerced a swinging bunt that freshman catcher Huff raced out from behind the plate to corral before cutting down Callahan at first. The SEC Pitcher of the Year officially settled in after that play by striking out second baseman Lisa Conchos and third baseman Lauren Grill in order to retire the side.
Rebel hurler Tara Willitt matched her counterpart in the circle during the bottom of the first by punching out a pair of Lady Vols and inducing a foul pop-up outside of first by junior Tonya Callahan.
Shortstop Ashley Dowdy managed to become the contest's initial base runner to lead-off the top of the second by ripping a hard single to right field. Abbott responded by striking out catcher Amber Tramp and forcing first baseman Lauren Rowe to lift a high pop-up behind the plate that Huff squeezed for the second retirement. Rebel center fielder Courtnie Ghinaudo swung and missed at a rise ball to leave the runner stranded at first base.
After two solid plays by the UM outfield defense on a pair of hard hit spheres off the bat of junior catcher Shannon Doepking and Huff in the bottom of the second, freshman right fielder Anita Manuma became Tennessee's first runner of the game by drawing a two-out walk. Sophomore third baseman Griffin drove a line drive to deep center field but right at Ghinaudo to conclude the inning.
With one retired in the bottom of the third, junior second baseman Kenora Posey dropped a bunt to Willitt in the circle. The hurler's corralled the orb in time but her throw to first bounced three-quarters of the way to the bag and rolled to the fence just past the Ole Miss dugout. Posey rounded second and slid headfirst into third, but Ole Miss' Lauren Grill applied the tag for a controversial second out. The Lady Vols reacted to the tough call by posting a two-out rally to get on the scoreboard. Chiles beat out an infield single and swiped her team-high 41st bag of the season to reach scoring position. Schutzler followed with a bunt base hit to place runners at the corners for the hot-hitting Callahan. The Holden, Mo., native registered RBIs No. 50 and 51 of the campaign by driving her 13th double into the gap in right center to grant the Big Orange a 2-0 lead. Doepking drove a sharp liner to center but again right to Ghinaudo to complete the scoring assault.
Pitching with an advantage on the scoreboard for the first time in the game venturing to the fourth, Abbott struck out Conchos, forced Grill to ground out to first and punched out Dowdy to register her eighth K.
Huff led off Tennessee's half of the fourth with a clean base hit to center and Manuma followed with a bouncer through the right side of the infield to grant UT a pair of base runners with no outs. Co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly, bidding to break the contest open, placed more speed on the bags by entering pinch runners Caitlin Ryan and Erinn Webb into the match-up. A wild pitch on a 1-0 count moved the duo up 60 feet to second and third where a hard shot off the bat of Griffin went right between the legs of shortstop Dowdy allowing Ryan to score for a 3-0 advantage. That signaled the end of Willitt's day in the circle for the Rebels as UM head coach Missy Dickerson summoned in reliever Becky Nye. Occupying first, pinch runner Lillian Hammond took off for second on a successful steal attempt, but the Nye pitch got past Ole Miss catcher Amber Tramp for a passed ball to bring Webb home and improve the count to 4-0. Following a walk issued to freshman pinch hitter Alexia Clay and a UT strikeout, Chiles made the Rebel infield rush a play at first by chopping a single back to the circle. Willitt's throw was late to the bag and was missed by first baseman Lauren Rowe to mark UM's third miscue of the contest as Hammond raced across the dish with Tennessee's fifth tally.
UT's three-time All-American hurler roared through the Rebel line-up in the top of the fifth by striking out the side for the 102nd time in 2007.
With Abbott in thorough control from the circle, Huff christened another threat by drawing a one out walk against Nye in the bottom of the fifth. A wild pitch allowed the base runner to reach scoring position where Huff later crossed on an RBI single up the middle off the bat of Webb. Griffin drew the fourth walk issued by Ole Miss during the match-up to place two on, and the duo pulled off a double steal to reach second and third with just one out. Sophomore shortstop Liane Horiuchi coerced the third base-on-balls of the fifth inning to load the bases for Posey. The Los Angeles, Calif., native delivered a high chopper on which Rowe made a leaping grab to force Webb at home plate for the second out. The inning came to a close on a routine ground ball to second base by freshman Nicole Kajitani to leave the bases juiced.
The K streak for Abbott reached six straight as Ole Miss left fielder Alyssa McGovern and right fielder Emily Sarver went down on strikes to begin the top of the sixth. UM's Callahan grounded out to first to conclude the frame.
In the bottom of the sixth with one down, pinch hitter Allison Fulmer bounced a clean single through the left side to record her sixth base hit of the campaign. Doepking followed with a high fly ball to right center for the second retirement of the inning. Huff singled up the middle to put two on, but Webb bounced out to first unassisted to keep the score at 6-0.
Needing three more outs to advance on to face No. 4 seed Florida in the SEC semifinals on Friday, Abbott coerced a fly out to right by Conchos to open the seventh. Grill walked to give Ole Miss a small measure of life with one down. Dowdy lifted a high fly into left center that a sprinting Schutzler squeezed for the second out. Tramp became Abbott's 14th strikeout victim to end the match-up and grant Tennessee its fourth consecutive SEC Tournament win dating back to 2006.
The top-seeded Tennessee Lady Vol softball team will continue its stay at the 2007 SEC Tournament title against No. 4 seed Florida in Auburn, Ala., on Friday, May 11, 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 at 865-974-8700 (box #6). UT's run at the SEC Tournament will be broadcast live by The Sports Animal (990 AM, through utladyvols.com via Yahoo Sports) with the "Voice of the Lady Vols" Mickey Dearstone on the call. Live video can be accessed through the SEC Tournament webpage at www.auburntigers.com.