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NO. 5 UT BATTLES BACK FROM LATE DEFICIT TO DEFEAT NO. 1 UCLA IN WCWS OPENER, 4-3
Kristi Durant

Kristi Durant

June 2, 2006

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - A Women's College World Series opening day that witnessed a 1:35 weather delay and two lengthy extra-inning contests set up a late night match-up for No. 5 Tennessee as the game finally commenced at 11:21 p.m. CT, or three hours and 17 minutes after the scheduled time of 8 p.m. When the Lady Vols eventually took to the field in front of a national television audience, they battled out of a 2-0 hole after five innings to post a huge 4-3 victory over No. 1 UCLA (48-8) and advance into Friday's winner's bracket. UT will now face No. 11 Northwestern at 9 p.m. ET on June 2, live on ESPN2.

Tennessee is now 2-7 against the nation's top-ranked squad but is a solid 2-1 in the last three meetings against No. 1. Last year at the WCWS, the Orange & White downed No. 1 Michigan, 2-0 (11 inn.), in another late night tilt before being eliminated from the event by the eventual national champion Wolverines. Tonight's game against the Bruins ended at approximately 2:01 a.m. local Oklahoma City time. UT is now a perfect 11-0 in night contests and 23-0 in neutral site match-ups in 2006.

Senior designated player Kristi Durant continued her amazing return from a lengthy injury break with a herniated disc in her back with a 2-for-4, two-RBI effort at the plate. Sophomore first baseman Tonya Callahan knocked in her SEC-best 73rd run of the season, and junior left fielder India Chiles registered a two-hit night at the dish to help lead the nation's top offensive attack. Junior pitcher Monica Abbott was tough in the circle for the Big Orange by striking out 11 and allowing two earned runs in seven innings of work to pick up her 42nd win of the campaign.

 

 

"UCLA is a great team, and it was a tough battle tonight," said Lady Vol co-head coach Karen Weekly. "Both Ralph (co-head coach Weekly) and I are really proud of the way our kids fought all night. Things didn't appear to be going our way too well early on, and maybe we were playing with a little anxiety. Once we finally settled down and just played our game, we were able to start making some things happen offensively. I think Anjelica Selden is just a fantastic pitcher, and this was just a tough battle between two teams that really wanted a win.

UCLA's Selden looked on top of her game from the circle by striking out senior center fielder Sarah Fekete and Chiles to christen the contest. Junior shortstop Lindsay Schutzler coerced a walk off the Bruin hurler to grant UT its initial base runner of the contest. The Monterey, Calif., native aggressively swiped her 29th base of the season to advance into scoring position. Catcher Emily Zaplatosch's throw down to second on the steal attempt drifted well wide of the bag and into center field where the orb rolled away from Tara Henry, allowing Schutzler to race into third on the fielding error. Despite fouling off numerous pitches during her at-bat, sophomore Callahan grounded out to third baseman Andrea Duran to close the frame with no scoring.

Duran went down swinging against Abbott to open the bottom half of the initial frame. Bruin left fielder Krista Colburn grounded a routine ball on the infield that was thrown away for an error to allow the runner to reach second safely and open the doors for a UCLA offensive attack. Second baseman Caitlin Benyi ripped an Abbott offering up the middle to score Colburn unearned and grant the Blue and Gold a 1-0 lead. The throw home by Fekete looked on line and might have had a chance to cut down the runner at the dish, but the ball bounced off the pitching rubber to alter its flight enough to allow the runner to score easily. UT entered the WCWS holding just an 8-8 overall record when its opponent scored the contest's initial tally. Zaplatosch followed with a base knock into left center to improve the UCLA situation to runners at first and third with just one down. At that point, Abbott settled down from the circle to strikeout shortstop Jodie Legaspi and first baseman Lisa Dodd to kill the threat with Tennessee trailing by one tally.

The Big Orange got a two-out base runner in the top of the second in the form of sophomore catcher Shannon Doepking (walk) but were unable to mount a concerted rally. Abbott stepped back in the circle in the bottom of the frame and struck out two of her five UCLA hitters to that point to maintain the one-run deficit.

Duran led off the bottom of the third inning with a shot off the right field wall just about a foot inside the foul line for a triple. Colburn followed with a blooper just over the outstretched glove of a leaping Schutzler at short for a single to plate Duran for a 2-0 Bruin advantage. Benyi was struck in the side of the head by an Abbott pitch to make it runners at first and second with no one retired. Zaplatosch grounded into a fielder's choice as Callahan threw to Schutzler covering third for the initial out of the inning. Abbott ended the frame by striking out Legapsi and Dodd for the second time in the contest.

Tennessee got its initial hit of the match-up with one down in the top of the fifth as Doepking grounded a ball up the middle off Selden. Freshmen Jennifer Griffin and Liane Horiuchi went down on strikes, however, to leave the third UT base runner stranded in the contest.

After Abbott worked a one-two-three bottom of the fifth, Chiles got a key Tennessee threat started in the top of the sixth by slapping a single off Selden's glove and through the left side of the infield. Schutzler bounced a ball out in front of the plate that she beat out to give UT two base runners in an inning for the first time in the contest. That brought to the dish last year's WCWS heroine for the Lady Vols in the form of Callahan. The Holden, Mo., native came through in the clutch once again by ripping a single into left that got by left fielder Ashley Herrera and rolled to the wall, allowing Chiles and Schutzler to score to knot the contest at 2-2. Consecutive hits by senior right fielder Katherine Card and Durant scored pinch runner Lillian Hammond to bestow Tennessee its first lead of the match-up at 3-2. A walk to Doepking loaded the bases with just one down. Griffin hit into a 3-2 fielder's choice to cut down Card at the dish for out number two. Horiuchi grounded out to short to end the frame, but the damage had been done as three runs crossed the plate on a combination of five consecutive singles and a UCLA miscue.

With the Blue and Gold facing their first deficit of the contest, Legaspi granted the Bruins a lead-off runner in the bottom of the sixth by bouncing a ball to second and beating out Horiuchi's throw to the bag. After a groundout by Dodd, designated player Whitney Holum popped out behind the plate to Doepking for the second retirement. Pinch-hitter Danielle Peterson laced a single into left to move the runner up 60 feet and into scoring position for Henry. The Bruin junior bounced a single just over the out-stretched glove of a leaping Abbott and to Horiuchi for a base hit to load the bags for the ever dangerous Duran. Abbott won the battle of All-Americans by punching out Duran to maintain Tennessee's tenuous one-run lead.

Leading off the top of the seventh, Fekete recorded a little history with her first hit of the contest. With the 108th base knock of her campaign, the Maryville, Tenn., native broke the Southeastern Conference single-season hit record established by Schutzler in 2005 (107 hits). Chiles followed by ripping a shot into left to put two runners on base for UT. The UCLA coaching staff decided to put Callahan on by intentional walk, and the move paid off as Card grounded into a fielder's choice at short to cut down the lead runner at the dish. That brought SEC career RBI leader Durant to the plate. The Placentia, Calif., native provided the Lady Vols with a key insurance run by driving a single up the middle to score Chiles for a 4-2 advantage. Callahan attempted to score from second on the play but was thrown out at home on a perfect strike from Henry in center to end the inning.

Desperately needing base runners, Benyi singled to left field with one out in the bottom of the seventh to bring the potential tying run to the plate. Zaplatosch went down on strikes for Abbott K number 11 of the contest to mark the second retirement of the final frame. Legaspi was struck on the forearm by an offering to grant the Bruins two vital base runners and bring the possible winning tally to the dish in the form of Lisa Dodd as the late-game drama continued to build. That UT insurance run in the top of the seventh proved essential as Dodd singled through the left side to score Benyi and cut the UCLA deficit to just 4-3. The Blue & Gold rally fell short, however, as Legaspi grounded into an unassisted fielder's choice to third that Griffin handled to complete an historic win for the Lady Vols.

No. 5 Tennessee will now be in action on Friday night in primetime at the scheduled time of 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2 against No. 11 Northwestern in a winner's bracket match-up. Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com, and periodic updates will be posted on the Lady Vol Hotline at (865) 974-8700 (box #6).

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