May 27, 2006
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - In front of a Tyson Park record sellout crowd of 1,425 on a blazing hot Saturday afternoon in Knoxville, Tenn., the No. 5 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (57-9) grabbed a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three NCAA Super Regional by outlasting No. 13 Michigan (43-14), 5-3. The victory was the Big Orange's fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament victory and the seventh straight win of this postseason including a three-game sweep through the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Junior India Chiles led the way offensively with a 3-for-3 effort with two runs scored, while junior shortstop Lindsay Schutzler was 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs. Senior right fielder Katherine Card drove in a pair of RBI to continue her amazing postseason production. Sophomore first baseman Tonya Callahan and senior designated player Kristi Durant each knocked in a run in the triumph.
"That was a great team victory against one of the best softball teams we have ever played," said Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly. "Jennie Ritter is everything that everyone says about her as a pitcher. She was tremendous today for Michigan. We are very aware as a team that Michigan lost the first game of the championship series last year at the WCWS and rallied to beat UCLA twice in a row. We will have to play doubly hard tomorrow.
It was an inauspicious start to the contest as Tennessee's Monica Abbott struck second baseman Tiffany Haas with her first offering of the match-up to grant the Wolverines an immediate base runner. The two-time All-American settled down immediately to strikeout left fielder Rebekah Milian and catcher Becky Marx to register two quick outs. With an 0-2 count on first baseman Samantha Findlay, Abbott unleashed a ball that UT catcher Shannon Doepking corralled and fired down to freshman Liane Horiuchi covering second to cut down a stealing Haas and retire the Michigan side.
UM hurler Jennie Ritter retired senior center fielder Sarah Fekete on a strikeout to lead-off the bottom of the first frame. Junior left fielder India Chiles bestowed Tennessee its initial hit of the contest by slapping a single into left field. With shortstop Lindsay Schutzler at the dish, Chiles swiped second for her 18th stolen base of the campaign to advance into scoring position. The Louisville, Ky., native was stranded right there as Schutzler and sophomore first baseman Tonya Callahan each went down swinging against Ritter.
With one down in the bottom of the second, a significant at-bat for the Lady Vols occurred as senior designated player Kristi Durant stepped to the dish for the first time since April 16 against Ole Miss. The Placentia, Calif., native has recovered enough from a herniated disc in her back to return to the line-up in a batting-only role. She very nearly singled in her initial at-bat, but her blooper into short left center was tracked down on a back-handed running grab by shortstop Teddi Ewing.
Abbott was rolling along in the top of the third with consecutive K's of designated player Tiffany Worthy and right fielder Stephanie Bercaw before hitting her second Michigan batter of the contest in the form of Ewing. During Haas' at-bat, the battery of Abbott and Doepking worked another perfect throw down to second base to catch Ewing attempting to steal. On the play, the runner eluded Schutzler's initial tag attempt but managed to overslide the base allowing Schutzler to tag her out for the final retirement of the frame.
Fekete granted UT its second base runner of the contest by lacing a single off Ritter into left center field with two down in the bottom of the third. During Chiles' at-bat, the speedster took off for second but was cut down attempting to steal by a strong throw from Marx to Haas to complete the frame.
With UT's 6-3 lefthander cruising through four innings to the tune of seven strikeouts, the Lady Vols' offense got things going with the speed game in the bottom half of the fourth. Chiles bunted out in front of the plate and outraced the throw to first to reach for the second time in the contest.
Schutzler was called on to drop a sacrifice bunt, but a bit of hesitation by third baseman Grace Leutele after picking up the orb allowed the Monterey, Calif., native to reach and make it runners at first and second with no one retired. That brought up the Southeastern Conference's leader in RBI production this season in the form of Tonya Callahan. She took a ball the other way down the right field line to score Chiles and advance Schutzler up to third. With a one run lead clutch postseason hitter Katherine Card came through once again with a long sacrifice fly to deep center to score Schutzler to make it 2-0 Lady Vols.
Findlay got the Maize & Blue on the board in the top of the fifth by driving an Abbott offering off the black screen high above the left field wall for a solo blast to trim UM's deficit to 2-1. After walking center fielder Alessandra Giampaolo and inducing a popped-up bunt by Leutele, Worthy drove a shot to the base of the wall in right that was tracked down by Card for out number two. Abbott struck out Bercaw swinging for her eighth K of the contest to close out the frame.
After a one-two-three Lady Vol inning in the fifth, Michigan set to work to even the count on the scoreboard in the top of the sixth against Abbott. With one down Haas singled to grant the Wolverines a base runner, and Milian attempted to advance her up 60 feet with a sacrifice bunt. The play went awry for UT, however, as the throw to first sailed high and rolled down the right field line into the corner allowing Haas to score and deadlock the game at 2-2.
Tennessee answered right back in the bottom of the sixth as Chiles reached with a lead-off single that UM third baseman Grace Leutele bobbled and threw away for an error allowing the runner to move to second. Schutzler followed with an RBI-single up the middle and moved to second on the throw to grant UT the lead once again at 3-2 as Chiles just beat the throw to the plate on a tremendous slide around the back of the dish. Callahan was walked intentionally and a wild pitch advanced the runners to second and third with still no one retired. That situation permitted Card and Durant the opportunity to knock in a single tally each on groundouts to second base to push the Big Orange in front 5-2.
The Wolverines were far from dead venturing to their last opportunity in the top of the seventh. Worthy drove a solo shot over the left field wall to cut the gap to 5-3 with only one retired. Abbott closed things out to take game one, however, by striking out Bercaw for K number 11 on the day and inducing a routine ground ball to third by Ewing.
The best-of-three event will continue Sunday with live stats posted on utladyvols.com through Gametracker. Periodic updates will be posted on the Lady Vol Hotline at (865) 974-8700 (box #6).
|NCAA Super Regional No. 2 Schedule|
|Saturday, May 27|
|Noon||Michigan 3 vs. Tennessee 5||ESPN|
|Sunday, May 28|
|1 p.m.||Michigan vs. Tennessee||ESPN|
|3 p.m.||Michigan vs. Tennessee (if necessary)||ESPN|