June 5, 2005
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - The University of Tennessee softball team (66-14) became just the third Southeastern Conference school to reach the semifinal round of the Women's College World Series, shutting out Alabama late Sunday afternoon (63-15) by a 4-0 score. The game was seen by the largest crowd to ever witness a Lady Vol softball contest: 6,148.
Prior to 2005, two SEC teams had never qualified for the same WCWS, so today's meeting was the first between league schools in the tournament's history.
The previous two occurrences of an SEC team advancing as far as the semifinal round came in 2004 and 2001, both achieved by LSU.
The Lady Vols now will take on the top-ranked Michigan Wolverines (62-5) for a berth in the three-game national championship series. Tennessee needs to defeat UM both tonight (starting 22 minutes after the Texas-UCLA game currently being played concludes) and Monday. If the squads do play tomorrow, the game would start at either noon or 2 p.m. CDT. An SEC school has never played for the national title.
Tennessee tallied nine hits in today's contest, tying for the most by any team in this year's WCWS. Earlier today, Alabama finished a suspended game with DePaul, a 2-1 (12-inning) affair, with nine base knocks as well.
As a team, Tennessee now has 50 shutouts on the season (extending its NCAA Division I record), while sophomore pitcher Monica Abbott earned her 33rd, the second-highest total in Division I history (trailing Louisiana Tech's Debbie Nichols' total of 36 in 1988).
The Lady Vols have compiled 66 wins in 2005, tied for the third-highest total in Division I annals, trailing only the 1999 Illinois-Chicago Flames and the Arizona Wildcats of 1998, who had 67 each. Tennessee is sharing the third spot with Oklahoma (2000), Alabama (2000) and Arizona (1995).
The win gives Tennessee 18 in its last 21 games, while the shutout is its 13th of 17 contests.
The Crimson Tide threatened to get on the scoreboard right away in the top of the first. With one out, Jordan Praytor was hit by a pitch and Ashley Courtney singled to right, but both runners were stranded by Abbott. The second out was a strikeout of Alabama designated player Stephanie VanBrakle, the 583rd of the season for the 6-3 sophomore, setting a school record and surpassing her freshman season in 2004.
Tennessee then came out in the bottom of the frame with its bats on fire. Sophomore shortstop Lindsay Schutzler tied the SEC hit record with a double over the Alabama leftfielder's head and off the fence on a bounce. At the time, she shared the mark of 105 with Georgia's Nicole Barber (2002).
After Schutzler was sacrificed to third by junior centerfielder Sarah Fekete, junior third baseman Kristi Durant strode to the plate one RBI shy of the school record. As Schutzler broke from third, Durant laid down a suicide squeeze so perfectly that she even beat out the throw to first. Bridget Jackson had 77 RBI in Tennessee's inaugural season of 1996 to originally set the standard.
After freshman first baseman Tonya Callahan reached on a fielder's choice, junior leftfielder Katherine Card proceeded to hit her own one-hop double over the leftfielder and off the fence. Callahan cruised past third and scored easily on the play to give UT a 2-0 advantage.
In the bottom of the second, junior rightfielder Stacey Jennings singled into the hole at short and easily beat it out. She was sacrificed to second by freshman second baseman Kenora Posey. Following a ground out, Schutzler broke the SEC hit record with an RBI single to right to plate Jennings and Tennessee took a 3-0 advantage.
Neither team could start a rally again until the Alabama half of the fifth. With one gone, Leah White singled to left and Jackie Wilkins walked. Abbott then proceeded to strike out Jordan Praytor for her 588th strikeout of the season to move into second place on the all-time NCAA Division I record charts. She passes Texas' Cat Osterman current campaign, who struck out 19 in the Longhorns' 1-0 (11-inning) victory over Arizona earlier today. Texas takes on UCLA tonight, meaning Abbott and Osterman are still in a battle for the second spot.
Tennessee added to its lead in the sixth with a fourth tally. After Callahan reached on an error to lead off the frame and the next two Lady Vols were retired, Jennings singled freshman pinch runner LaDonna Oliver to second with a hit to left. Freshman pinch hitter Natalie Brock then hit an RBI one-bagger to center to plate Oliver and the Big Orange took a 4-0 advantage into the seventh.
Although Alabama got two runners on in the seventh via a hit batter and infield hit, Abbott completed the victory with a strikeout.
UCLA and Texas are playing currently and the Lady Vol-Wolverine game will begin 22 minutes following the conclusion. If Tennessee defeats Michigan tonight, the teams would play tomorrow to determine who would move on to the national championship series.
The game would be contested at noon if UCLA tops Texas and moves on to the title series, while the UT-UM contest would begin at 2 p.m. if Texas defeats UCLA to force another contest between the schools.
The national championship series will be a best-of-three affair to be played on Monday, Tuesday and, if necessary, Wednesday. All three games would begin at 6:30 p.m.