May 11, 2007
AUBURN, Ala. - With 1,032 fans in attendance on Friday night at Jane B. Moore Field in Auburn, Ala., the No. 1 and top-seeded Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (54-5) suffered a tough 1-0 defeat at the hands of fourth-seeded and No. 19 Florida (46-19) in the SEC Tournament semifinals. The loss was the first for UT in the league's showcase event since being eliminated from the 2005 tourney, a run of four straight victories.
Senior center fielder Lindsay Schutzler was the bright spot for the Big Orange offense with a perfect 3-for-3 performance at the dish.
Senior pitcher Monica Abbott (41-3) allowed just two hits over seven innings of work with 13 strikeouts during the tough luck loss to UF. Unfortunately, the 6-3 left hander permitted a fourth-inning solo home run to Florida's Melissa Zick to mark the eventual game-winning score. The Salinas, Calif., product now boasts 587 strikeouts on the year to stand just 76 K's from tying the NCAA single-season strikeout record of 663 set by former Southern Miss hurler Courtney Blades in 2000. She is also only 16 strikeouts from equaling her own school single-season record of 603 K's established in 2005.
Despite allowing a two-out walk to Florida first baseman Ali Gardiner, Abbott rolled through the opening frame to the tune of two strikeouts and a fly out to right field by Gator shortstop Lauren Roussell.
A scary moment for the Big Orange to lead-off the bottom of the first as slap-hitting SEC Player of the Year India Chiles was struck in the helmet by a 1-2 offering from UF pitcher Stacey Nelson forcing her to leave the contest. The pitch actually cracked her batting helmet, illustrating the danger inherent in the game. Freshman Nicole Kajitani entered the match-up for Chiles to take her position at first base, but was called out for leaving the bag early on an attempted swipe of second. With one down Schutzler ripped a hard single off the glove of third baseman Zick to reach safely for the Big Orange. That brought up junior first baseman Tonya Callahan who bounced a ball into the hole at short. Roussell made the grab for the Gators, turned and started a 6-4-3 double play as UT's first inning ended.
The pitcher's duel continued into the second and third frames as both Abbott and UF's Nelson retired the respective opposition via consecutive one-two-three innings.
Tennessee's hurler struck out the side in the top of the third to mark the 103rd occasion during the 2007 campaign that she had achieved that feat.
The K streak grew to six straight in the fourth as Roussell and Gardiner each went down swinging to open the frame. That brought up Zick who blasted a towering fly ball that just cleared the wall in left for a solo home run to grant the Gators a 1-0 lead. Tennessee entered the contest just 9-3 this season when its opponent recorded the game's initial score.
Good news for the Big Orange to open the bottom of the fourth as Chiles re-entered to bat in the lead-off position to begin the bottom of the fourth. She slapped a ball to the right side of the pitcher, but Nelson managed to nab the sphere and make a strong throw that just beat Chiles to the bag. Schutzler blooped a single that dropped just in front of Roussell at short to grant the Lady Vols their second base runner of the match-up. Callahan popped up to short for the second out. Schutzler then swiped her 34th bag of the season to reach scoring position with Huff standing at the plate. UF's Nelson hit the freshman right fielder with a pitch to grant Tennessee a duo on the base paths with two down. Doepking came to the batter's box with a chance to be a heroine once again. The Acton, Calif., native fell behind 0-2 and then battled back to 2-2 before popping up to first baseman Gardiner to conclude the threat.
Gator center fielder Lacy Howard ripped a base knock up the middle with one down in the fifth to begin a rally as Florida attempted to add to its one-run advantage. Left fielder Corrie Brooks attempted to drop the sacrifice bunt, but was unsuccessful. Howard took off on a successful steal of second to reach scoring position as Brooks became Abbott's 10th strikeout victim of the match-up. Catcher Kristina Hilberth worked the count to 2-2 and fouled off several pitches before grounding out harmlessly to junior Kenora Posey at second to leave the runner stranded.
With two down in the bottom of the sixth, Schutzler improved her effort to 3-for-3 on the day with a base hit back up the middle. The power-hitting Callahan stepped to the dish and worked the count full at 3-2 before blooping a ball into short right field that was drifting toward the line. Florida second baseman Kim Waleszonia raced over from her defensive position and managed to make an outstanding diving catch to complete the Big Orange sixth.
Abbott kept the Lady Vol deficit at just one run heading to the last of the seventh by forcing Brooke Johnson to pop-up to Callahan at first, striking out right fielder Mary Ratliff and inducing a groundout to third by Howard.
UF's Nelson fell behind Huff 3-1 to open the seventh before losing the Saugus, Calif., native on a lead-off walk. Looking for more speed on the base paths, co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly opted to replace Huff with sophomore pinch runner Lillian Hammond. Doepking was asked to lay down the sacrifice, and she performed her job perfectly by dropping the first pitch she saw out in front of the plate for a bunt to advance Hammond into scoring position. Freshman designated player Anita Manuma grounded out to third for the second out to bring sophomore third baseman Jennifer Griffin to the plate representing Tennessee's last chance. The Whittier, Calif., product fell behind 1-2 and then battled back to a full count before going down swinging to end the contest.
The No. 1 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team will learn its NCAA Tournament draw on Sunday between 3 and 4 p.m. ET as ESPNEWS broadcasts the NCAA Softball Selection Show.