May 12, 2005

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. - The 11th-ranked and fourth-seeded University of Tennessee softball team (57-11) tallied three runs and batted around in the first inning on its way to earning a 4-0 victory over the fifth-seeded and No. 23 Florida Gators in its opening game at the SEC Tournament on Thursday night. Pitcher Monica Abbott retired 15-of-the-last-16 Gators and tossed a three-hit shutout to earn her school-record 25th whitewashing of the season, breaking her own mark of 24 set as a freshman. She has thrown 45.1 consecutive scoreless innings.

With seven strikeouts on the day and 502 in 2004, the sophomore hurler also became the first pitcher in NCAA Division I history to record 500 strikeouts in a season twice. As a freshman, the 6-3 lefty struck out 582, the second-highest total in history. The 500th came at 6:16 p.m. as she sat down Lacy Howard on a 0-2 pitch to end the fifth inning.

"Monica pitched another great game and we were happy to see her get her 500th strikeout against a very good team," Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said.

Abbott gave a lot of credit for the win to her defense. "The defense was very successful and I had a lot of support. They had a great game today."

The team as a whole has won nine straight games. It has also thrown five consecutive shutouts and 42 on the season, which ties for the fifth most compiled by any team in NCAA Division I history. The mark is just five short of the NCAA record of 47, set by UCLA in 1997. The Lady Vols have not allowed a run in their past 41.1 frames.

The Lady Vols struck early on Thursday, tallying three runs and batting through the order in the bottom of the first. Sophomore shortstop Lindsay Schutzler got it started by beating out an infield hit. Junior centerfielder Sarah Fekete then hit a grounder to third, but Gator third baseman Stacie Pestrak threw the ball over the first baseman's head and down the right field line, scoring Schutzler and allowing Fekete to advance to third.

Junior third baseman Kristi Durant would follow by taking a ball deep to center field for a sacrifice fly, plating Fekete and giving UT a 2-0 advantage. Freshman first baseman Tonya Callahan next reached after being hit by a pitch and a walk to junior leftfielder Katherine Card put runners on first and second. Freshman catcher Shannon Doepking hit a grounder between short and third which Gator shortstop Lauren Roussell grabbed and tossed to Pestrak at the bag in an attempt to force Callahan, but the ball was dropped. Now with the bases loaded, junior rightfielder Stacey Jennings walked on four pitches to drive in Callahan for the third and final Lady Vol run of the inning.

"When we got up on them early, it took the crowd out of it a little," Co-Head Coach Karen Weekly said. "It gave us confidence as well."

The Lady Vols attempted to add to their lead in the second but the arm of Gator leftfielder Lindsey Cameron stopped them cold in their steps. With one out, Fekete beat out an infield hit and Durant followed by singled to left-center. Fekete attempted to take third on the play but was nailed by Cameron. Callahan followed by singling down the right field line, but Cameron would nail Durant at the plate.

Florida pitcher Stacey Stevens settled down at that point to toss three innings of no-hit ball until Tennessee extended its lead to 4-0 in the sixth. With two outs, sophomore designated player India Chiles singled to center and freshman second baseman Kenora Posey hit a one-bagger to left. Schutzler then completed the outfield hit trifecta by hitting a single to right to plate Chiles.

"Our girls came ready to play and were fired up from the first pitch," Ralph Weekly said. "They played well against a very tough Florida team. It seems like every Tennessee-Florida game is a battle and this was no different. Our speed game was the difference today. Lindsay Schutzler, Sarah Fekete, India Chiles and Kenora Posey were all on base during the game making things happen. Kristi Durant hit real well and played an outstanding third base. Sarah Fekete's catch to end the game was an exception diving catch. We are proud of all the girls."

The win was the initial opening-round victory in the SEC Tournament since the Lady Vols topped the Gators, 11-3 (5 inn.), in 1999. Tennessee dropped opening contests in 2004 (8-2 to Mississippi State) and 2003 (1-0 in nine innings to LSU) and did not qualify for the 2002, 2001 and 2000 tourneys.

The Lady Vols next play the winner of tonight's game between top-seeded and eighth-ranked Georgia (48-12) and the No. 8 seed LSU (30-21). That game will begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.





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