May 28, 2006
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The nation's best offense scratched out a run on another clutch hit by senior Katherine Card and junior Monica Abbott (41-8) hurled a five-hit shutout to make that tally stand up and send No. 5 Tennessee (58-10) back to the Women's College World Series for the second straight year with a 1-0 victory over No. 13 and defending national champion Michigan (44-15). The Big Orange will open the WCWS on June 1 against No. 1 UCLA at a time still to be determined. The Bruins advanced to the event by taking two straight contests from South Florida.
Sophomore catcher Shannon Doepking and Card each registered two hits in the contest, but Card's sixth inning blooper proved the difference as her single RBI marked her team-best 12th of the entire postseason (SEC Tourney included) and 10th of the NCAA Tournament in just six games.
"These two games today were classic battles between two very good softball teams," said Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly. "Michigan came out fast and took it to us in the first game and played equally hard in game two. We were able to scratch out the run that made the difference. Our speed game again was a factor in both games offensively. Lindsay Schutzler was phenomenal all day at shortstop and made numerous incredible plays. Monica Abbott was very tough in the day's second game. Katherine Card continues to amaze us all with her RBI prowess in the postseason.
Tennessee attempted to get the offense going right off the bat in the top of the first. Singles by senior center fielder Sarah Fekete and junior shortstop Lindsay Schutzler as well as a throwing error by Michigan's Teddi Ewing granted UT runners at second and third with just one out. Consecutive groundouts by sophomore first baseman Tonya Callahan and senior right fielder Katherine Card ended the frame and stranded both runners in scoring position.
The Wolverines managed a pair of base runners in the bottom of the first frame, but UT's two-time All-American hurler struck out center fielder Alessandra Giampaolo to end the threat with no damage on the scoreboard as both teams left two runners on in the opening frame.
After the Lady Vols were retired one-two-three in the top of the second, Abbott enforced her will from the circle by striking out third baseman Grace Leutele and designated player Tiffany Worthy for K's number two and three to tally a pair of quick outs. Fekete then made an outstanding running grab in right center field to end Michigan's second frame.
The pitcher's duel between both hurlers continued as Ritter had retired 10 straight Lady Vols until a two-out double off the right field wall by senior right fielder Katherine Card in the top of the fourth inning. UT couldn't manage to get a run across as senior designated player Kristi Durant popped out to short on a 3-2 pitch from Ritter.
After suffering an apparent wrist injury on a ground ball out by Schutzler after being run into at first base in the top of the fourth, Michigan's Samantha Findlay bounced a ball deep into the hole and slid in safe at first to beat Schutzler's throw. The Wolverines then took a page out of Tennessee's book by putting some pressure on the Lady Vol defense as Giampaolo bunted to third and beat the covering Tonya Callahan to the first base bag to grant the Maize & Blue a pair of base runners. Leutele popped out harmlessly to first, but Worthy lined a shot right back at Abbott that the 6-3 lefthander managed to catch for the second out by putting her glove up to protect herself. Despite both runners swiping a base to advance 60 feet, Abbott struck out right fielder Stephanie Bercaw to halt the scoring chance and make it five Wolverines left stranded in the match-up through four innings.
The fifth frame went quietly as only UT catcher Shannon Doepking reached base with a one out single to center in the top half of the inning. Through five complete the teams had combined to strand nine base runners (UM five and UT four).
Chiles got the top of the sixth going for the Big Orange by leading off the attack with a bouncer to short that the speedster beat out to first. Schutzler was called upon to drop a sacrifice, and she performed her job flawlessly with a bunt to third base to advance the runner up 60 feet into scoring position. A wild pitch from Ritter moved Chiles to third during Callahan's at-bat. The Holden, Mo., native drew a walk to give UT runners at the corners with one retired. Following a stolen base by pinch runner Lillian Hammond, the clutch Card came through once again with a blooper into short right center to score Chiles for a 1-0 UT advantage.
Pitching with a lead for the first time all day, Abbott stepped it up in the bottom of the sixth by forcing a ground ball out by catcher Becky Marx before striking out Findlay and Giampaolo looking to put UT three outs from a second consecutive Women's College World Series berth.
Down to their last chance in the bottom of the seventh, UM wouldn't go quietly as Worthy beat out a single to deep short to give the Wolverines the base runner they desperately needed. UM head coach Carol Hutchins looked to her bench and summoned in speedy pinch runner Michelle Weatherdon in an attempt to get the equalizer. She moved up 60 feet as Bercaw coerced a walk to place runners at first and second with just one out. After a groundout by Ewing, a Tennessee conference in the circle came up with the decision to intentionally walk Haas to set up the force at any base. It didn't matter as Abbott struck out Milian swinging for her ninth K of the contest to send UT back to the WCWS for the second straight campaign.
|NCAA Super Regional Schedule|
|Saturday, May 27|
|Noon||Michigan 3 vs. Tennessee 5||ESPN|
|Sunday, May 28|
|1 p.m.||Michigan 5 vs. Tennessee 1||ESPN|
|3 p.m.||Michigan 0 vs. Tennessee 1||ESPN|
TENNESSEE SUPER REGIONAL CHAMPIONS, 2-1