June 4, 2006
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - The heroines were the same for No. 5 Tennessee (61-11), so the 2006 match-up resembled a replay from last season's Women's College World Series as junior pitcher Monica Abbott worked a two-hit shutout (seven K's) and clutch senior Katherine Card came up with the game-winning shot (solo home run) as the Big Orange downed No. 3 Arizona (51-11), 1-0. With the victory the Lady Vols forced a deciding game on Sunday night against the Wildcats at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2 with a berth in the best-of-three WCWS Championship Series hanging in the balance.
Aptly monikered "Miss Postseason," Card came through with the biggest of Tennessee's three hits off Arizona senior All-American hurler Alicia Hollowell by bashing a solo home run to deep center field in the fifth. The big fly was her second of the NCAA Tournament (seventh of the season), and she now possesses a team-best 11 RBI since entering NCAA Regional play back on May 19. Junior left fielder India Chiles and senior designated player Kristi Durant delivered the other two Lady Vol hits in the game.
"I'm really, really proud of our kids and how hard they fought today," said Lady Vol co-head coach Karen Weekly. "Monica (Abbott) pitched an exceptional game. She answered every challenge out there. The play Lindsay (Schutzler) made at the end was brilliant. She is the best shortstop in the country and is the person I want out there when the game is on the line. Of course, Katherine (Card), we call her `Miss Postseason', because she always finds a way to come up with that late hit. Arizona is a great team. I expect it to be another great battle tonight.
After retiring the initial two Wildcat hitters in the top of the first, Abbott permitted a hard single into right field by shortstop Kristie Fox. The three-time All-American exerted her control from the circle by striking out Arizona catcher Callista Balko on a rise ball to retire the side.
Opposing hurler Alicia Hollowell looked as if she was prepared to engage in the expected pitcher's duel between two of the top four strikeout artists in NCAA Division I history. The Wildcat senior punched out senior center fielder Sarah Fekete, forced junior left fielder India Chiles to fly out to left center field and closed the frame on a ground ball out in front of the plate by junior shortstop Lindsay Schutzler.
After another one-two-three inning by Abbott in the top of the second, Durant, Tennessee's leading hitter in the WCWS at .400 entering the match-up, ripped a single just off the glove of first baseman Laine Roth to reach safely with one down in the bottom of the second. Despite still recovering from a herniated disc injury, Durant remained in the contest to run and was promptly doubled off on a liner by senior right fielder Katherine Card back to Hollowell in the circle.
An error allowed the Wildcats a one-out base runner in the third as right fielder Adrienne Acton bounced a ball on the infield that was misplayed. Center fielder Caitlin Lowe dropped a sacrifice bunt to advance the runner up 60 feet. With left fielder Autumn Champion at the plate, Acton swiped third for U of A's seventh consecutive steal at the WCWS. Schutzler made a stellar play on a ground ball off the bat of Champion to retire the runner at first and keep Arizona off the scoreboard.
Fox reached base for U of A on a lead-off walk to christen the top of the fourth to grant the Wildcats a very speedy base runner. Tennessee got a couple of big breaks as Arizona twice failed to get down the potential sacrifice bunt. Balko popped up to Callahan and then third baseman Jenae Leles lifted a short pop to Doepking behind the plate in foul territory for two very quick retirements. A routine grounder to first by second baseman Chelsie Mesa was handled unassisted by Callahan to end what had begun as a viable Arizona scoring opportunity.
A frightening moment for the Lady Vols occurred to open the bottom of the fourth as Fekete was struck under the faceguard by a Hollowell offering. The Maryville, Tenn., native has an unfortunate injury history as she suffered a broken jaw during the 2005 campaign after being hit in the face by a pitch at Virginia. She was helped to her feet and trotted down to first base as a speedy lead-off base runner for UT. Following a fly ball to left by Chiles for the first out of the inning, Schutzler reached on an error committed by Arizona's Champion. Callahan grounded into a fielder's choice to Leles at third as the Arizona fielder corralled the ground ball and stepped on third to retire the lead runner. Durant went down looking on strikes to end the promising frame and maintain the scoreless deadlock.
Abbott was in complete control from the circle as exhibited in the top of the fifth as the 6-3 lefthander struck out the side including catching designated player Taryne Mowatt and Roth looking at strike three. In her two-year WCWS career, Abbott, to that point, had worked 12 scoreless frames and allowed two hits against the Wildcats in a pair of contests.
UT's clutch "Miss Postseason" Katherine Card came through for the Lady Vols in the bottom of the fifth with her second home run of the NCAA Tournament by blasting a big fly to center for a 1-0 lead. Arizona center fielder Lowe made a valiant effort on the ball by vaulting herself over the fence, but was unable to come down with the big fly. The RBI was Card's team-leading 11th of the NCAA Tournament for Tennessee. The Soddy Daisy, Tenn., native also had the big hit last year in the sixth-inning of UT's 1-0 victory over Arizona in the 2005 WCWS opener. Her single and the assistance of an Arizona miscue scored that game's lone run.
Lowe granted the Wildcats a very dangerous lead-off base runner to begin the top of the sixth by drilling a shot deep into the hole at short and beating out the long throw to first. Champion sacrificed Lowe up 60 feet and into scoring position. Fox was struck in the back by a pitch to grant U of A a pair of base runners with one down. Following a visit to the circle by UT pitching coach Marty McDaniel, Abbott settled down to induce a fly out to center by Balko. Schutzler ended the threat by easily handling a grounder to short by Leles and throwing on to freshman Liane Horiuchi covering second for a fielder's choice.
Tennessee got a one out base runner in the bottom of the sixth after Chiles singled into left center. The Louisville, Ky., native was called out by first base umpire Diane Beasley, however, for leaving the bag early to clean the basepaths. Schutzler delivered a routine grounder to second to complete the frame and bring up Arizona for its last chance in regulation.
Mesa went down on strikes to mark Abbott's seventh K of the contest to christen the top of the final inning. Mowatt popped up on the infield but the sphere was dropped for an error. Following a sacrifice bunt by Roth to advance the runner up 60 feet, a miscue on a ground ball allowed Arizona to post runners at first and third with two retired and increase the pressure on the Lady Vol defense. Schutzler made an exceptional play on a ground ball to short by the speedy Lowe to nab the out and force the "winner takes all" match-up at 7 p.m. ET tonight for a berth in the best-of-three WCWS Championship Series.
Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com, the game will be broadcast on radio by The Sports Animal with the "Voice of the Lady Vols" Mickey Dearstone on 99.1 & 99.3 FM or 990 AM, and periodic updates will be posted on the Lady Vol Hotline at (865) 974-8700 (box #6).