June 4, 2006
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - For the second straight year the No. 5 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team came up just a single victory short of playing in the Women's College World Series best-of-three national championship round after suffering a 6-0 defeat to No. 3 Arizona (52-11) on Sunday evening in Oklahoma City. The magical season concluded for the Big Orange with another third-place national finish at the WCWS, the second most victories in school history and tops in NCAA Division I (61), the fewest defeats in a single season (12) and the highest winning percentage in program annals (.836).
Seniors Sarah Fekete, Katherine Card and Kristi Durant conclude their careers in the Orange and White having helped bring the Tennessee softball program into national prominence. The trio helped guide the Big Orange to a 228-68 overall mark from 2003-06, two consecutive Women's College World Series berths (first visits in school annals), two straight NCAA Regional and Super Regional titles and the first Southeastern Conference Tournament championship in UT history (downed No. 12 LSU 3-0 in 2006 final).
"I told our kids after the game that I was extremely proud of them," said Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly. "I didn't want them to hold on to today's game. What I want them to dwell on is their Southeastern Conference Tournament championship, their NCAA Regional and Super Regional championships and the fact that since they won the first elimination game they're an unqualified number three finisher in the nation. I don't know what happened today, I just know our kids were trying, and it seemed like everything we tried to do back-fired on us. I'll add to that tremendous credit to the University of Arizona. They came out like the Arizona teams of old. In that first inning we made errors that really dug holes for us. They are obviously extremely well-coached by their staff, and they are a great team. All the credit goes to them in today's game.
The decisive contest got off to an inauspicious beginning as the first offering of the match-up from Abbott was ripped into left field by Arizona lead-off hitter Caitlin Lowe. A ground ball by left fielder Autumn Champion was fielded cleanly by shortstop Lindsay Schutzler, but her throw to second for the force was dropped for a crucial error to bestow the Wildcats first and second with no one out. Shortstop Kristie Fox popped up to short, and then the base runners pulled off a double steal to both advance into scoring position. Catcher Callista Balko struck out to get the Lady Vols one retirement from escaping a big jam in the opening frame. Third baseman Jenae Leles wouldn't allow the Big Orange to get out of the inning with no damage as she ripped a single up the middle to score a pair to grant Arizona a 2-0 advantage. Second baseman Chelsie Mesa flied out to left field to end the frame, but UT had already given up two tallies on two hits and a vital fielding miscue.
U of A hurler Alicia Hollowell set the tone early for the Wildcats from the circle by striking out Tennessee senior center fielder Sarah Fekete, junior left fielder India Chiles and junior shortstop Lindsay Schutzler consecutively in the bottom of the first.
That put Tennessee in a big hole as the Lady Vols entered the match-up just 9-9 this year when its opposition plated the game's initial tally. The Wildcats utilized their speed to add to their advantage in the top of the second with one down as first baseman Laine Roth and right fielder Adrienne Acton each beat out ground balls on the infield. Lowe dribbled a roller to sophomore first baseman Tonya Callahan that she nabbed and threw on to first for out number two. Champion came through for the U of A by ripping a two-RBI single down the left field line to score a pair for a 4-0 lead. Fox laced an Abbott offering on a line drive to first but Callahan leapt to make an amazing catch to close out the attack.
The Big Orange offense was going nowhere as Arizona's All-American pitcher was on cruise control having retired six-up and six-down through the opening two frames with five strikeouts.
Balko got the Cardinal and Navy off and running in the top of the third with a hit into short left center to get the lead-off hitter on base for the second time in the opening three frames. Following a foul out to Schutzler just wide of third by Arizona's Mesa, designated player Taryne Mowatt and Laine Roth laced consecutive base knocks to tally another Wildcat run and place UT in a 5-0 hole through two-and-a-half innings.
Newly inserted left fielder Sarah Vaughn garnered Tennessee's initial hit of the match-up with one down in the bottom of the fourth inning. The Lenoir City, Tenn., native lined a Hollowell pitch into center field to reach first safely. She was stranded, however, as Schutzler popped out to third and Callahan went down swinging to conclude the fourth.
Abbott worked her first three-up and three-down frame in the top of the fifth as Mesa flied out to center, Mowatt popped to Liane Horiuchi at second, and Schutzler squeezed Roth's pop-up in short left.
Tennessee's third fielding miscue of the day allowed Acton to reach first to lead-off the top of the sixth inning. After a sacrifice bunt advanced the runner up 60 feet, she scored to make it 6-0 in favor of Arizona on an RBI single up the middle of a drawn-in infield by Champion.
Fekete got a two-out infield hit in the bottom of the sixth to raise her overall batting average back to .500 (110-of-220) for the campaign. She was left standing on first as Hollowell struck out the UT side for the second time in the contest.
After Abbott retired the Wildcats in order in the top of the seventh, Schutzler led off UT's last chance effort by reaching on an error by third baseman Leles. Callahan went down looking on strikes for Hollowell's 14th K of the match-up. Durant grounded out to short to advance the runner up 60 feet, but Card closed it out by grounding routinely to second.