June 6, 2007
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - The 2007 campaign will go down as the most successful in program history for the Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (63-8) for a variety of reasons after recording a second-place finish at the Women's College World Series, the program's first Southeastern Conference regular season title and the initial No. 1 ranking in school and league history. The season will also be remembered as one of great disappointment after coming so very close to UT's first softball national title before falling short in a 5-0 loss to No. 4 Arizona (50-14-1) on Wednesday night at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla.
The defeat concludes the incredible careers of seniors Monica Abbott, Lindsay Schutzler and India Chiles. The trio helped Tennessee to the program's first three WCWS berths, three straight top-three national finishes, the 2007 Southeastern Conference regular-season title, a 2006 SEC Tournament Championship and a sterling overall record of 246-51, the best of any four-year class in Lady Vol softball history.
UT's offense reached Arizona hurler Taryne Mowatt for seven hits and four walks on the exceptionally windy evening, but once again had trouble getting the clutch hit needed to break through on the scoreboard as the Big Orange left 12 base runners stranded in the series finale.
Abbott took the loss to end her campaign at 50-5 overall after allowing five earned runs on 10 hits with seven K's in the complete game. The Salinas, Calif., native and four-time NFCA All-American ends her stay wearing the Orange & White with NCAA Division I career records for wins (189), appearances (253), strikeouts (2,440), shutouts (112) and innings pitched (1448.0), while also holding the single-season K mark at an staggering 724 set this year. Three-time All-American Schutzler was 1-for-4 in her last game for UT and ends her stay as one of only 12 NCAA D-I players to record 300 hits, 200 runs and 100 steals in their careers. The Monterey, Calif., native was not only a two-time ESPN the Magazine First-Team Academic All-American, but also the University Division Academic All-American of the Year for the last two years running. She leads the Tennessee career record books with 362 hits, 241 runs, 120 steals, 20 triples and 479 total bases while also registered a career batting average of .383. Chiles (1-for-4) added to her legend by hitting .459 in 2007, reaping first-team NFCA All-America and SEC Player of the Year honors during her senior campaign and playing through numerous injuries including a torn ACL to contribute as the team's leading hitter (.400 on 8-of-20) at the WCWS. The Louisville, Ky., product will also be remembered as the best hitter by average in Lady Vol history at .417 for her career.
"First of all, we congratulate Arizona and their great team on their national championship," Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "Second of all, I am extremely proud of every one of my players. I think they fought really, really hard. One of the things that really bothers me is a pitcher being judged on whether or not she wins the national championship. I think anyone who saw the game last night knows she (Monica Abbott) pitched well enough to win the national championship, but we left nine runners in scoring position. All it would have taken was a sacrifice fly or a single to end it and we just couldn't get it done. That is not a knock against our kids, it was a collective effort. When I coached the Olympic team in 1996 and 2000, the head coach, Ralph Raymond, said the most important stat in the game is an RBI. That is the thing that got us. We couldn't get the key hit when we needed it. I told the kids sometimes the Lord works in mysterious ways. The bottom line is they played their heart out and left it all out on the field. They never yielded. They came back after Arizona scored five runs and loaded the bases. (Co-head coach) Karen (Weekly) and I are both tremendously proud of them."
Following a quick one-two-three inning for the Lady Vols in the top of the first, Arizona All-American Caitlin Lowe slapped a bouncer to the right of UT second baseman Kenora Posey for a lead-off single. Abbott got behind 3-0 to left fielder K'Lee Arredondo and issued a free pass to put two on with no one out as the Wildcats opened a serious scoring threat. U of A shortstop Kristie Fox popped a ball up behind second base that sophomore shortstop Liane Horiuchi raced over to grab while standing virtually on top of the bag. The umpire ruled that Lowe just got back safely before the sphere settled into the UT shortstop's glove to avoid the double play. Third baseman Jenae Leles became Abbott's first strikeout victim of the night to get the Big Orange closer to escaping the big first inning jam. Second baseman Chelsie Mesa lifted a pop fly that on any other night would have easily drifted into the stands behind the first base dugout. Winds blowing consistently from right to left at 25-30 m.p.h. and gusting to 40 m.p.h. kept the orb in play as junior second baseman Kenora Posey squeezed the out near the fence to help Tennessee survive a huge threat.
Having gotten through the opening frame unscathed, junior third baseman Tonya Callahan led off the top of the second with a clean single to right field breaking an 0-for-13 stretch for the Holden, Mo., native in 2007 WCWS play. After freshman first baseman Tiffany Huff went down swinging, junior catcher Shannon Doepking dropped a potential sacrifice bunt that ended up as a single as Leles' decision to attempt to let the ball roll foul against the third base line proved the wrong one as the sphere remained fair by dying just inside the chalk. Freshman designated player Alexia Clay ripped a shot to deep left center, but Arizona's center fielder Lowe got a great jump on the ball and tracked it down feet from the wall for the second out. Sophomore shortstop Liane Horiuchi swung and missed at strike three to strand two on the base paths as the game devolved into a pitcher's duel much like Tuesday's game two.
With two down in the bottom of the second inning, Wildcat catcher Callista Balko broke a personal 0-for-19 slump in WCWS play with a double that rattled off the wall past Chiles in left to put another U of A runner in scoring position. Abbott responded by handling a hard ground ball off the bat of right fielder Adrienne Acton and throwing to first to conclude the frame.
For the second consecutive inning Tennessee got its lead-off hitter aboard as Posey blooped a base knock down the left field line. With the speedy runner at first, Chiles stepped in and battled Arizona pitcher Taryne Mowatt long enough that Posey had time to swipe second and tie the single WCWS record with four stolen bases. Chiles laced a shot to short and reached via error on the throw from Fox as her toss forced first baseman Sam Banister off the bag. Freshman right fielder Nicole Kajitani struck out and Schutzler popped out to short as the Lady Vols got ever closer to leaving more runners stranded. Callahan got ahead of Mowatt 3-0 before taking a called strike that she obviously didn't agree with since she was headed up to first. The next offering from the U of A hurler was high as Callahan walked to load the bags for Huff, who entered the contest hitting .417 this season with the bases juiced. The Saugus, Calif., native got caught looking at strike three to end the inning as the parade of stranded UT base runners continued.
In almost a replay of her first at-bat, Lowe grounded a ball to the right of Posey at second in the bottom of the third to make it a perfect 2-for-2 on the night. Arredondo was asked by head coach Mike Candrea to drop the sacrifice bunt and performed her job perfectly with a bunt that Callahan was forced to charge before barely retiring her at first. Tennessee's coaching staff decided to walk the dangerous Fox to get to Leles, but the move didn't immediately pay off as Abbott walked Leles to load the bases with one out. After working to the dangerous count of 3-2 against Mesa, the Arizona hitter chopped a ball toward Posey. Leles collided with Posey as she attempted to make a play on the grounder forcing first base umpire Bryan Smith to call the runner out and by rule return Lowe and Fox to third and second, respectively. The bizarre play helped the Lady Vols emerge unscathed once again as Abbott struck out Banister to up Arizona's stranded count to six through three frames.
Mowatt walked Doepking to start the UT fourth as the Lady Vols got their lead-off hitter aboard for the third consecutive inning. Junior Caitlin Ryan was inserted at first to add a little more speed on the base paths as Clay stepped in to hit. The Rochester, Ind., native battled to 3-2 and fouled off several pitches before swinging early at a change-up to record strike three. Horiuchi dropped a sacrifice bunt to advance Ryan into scoring position with two down. Freshman pinch hitter Anita Manuma was summoned into the contest in place of Posey to face Mowatt, but hit a slow roller than Banister handled herself at first to leave UT's sixth runner on base.
Abbott struck out the Arizona side in the bottom of the fourth as designated player Sarah Akamine, Balko and Acton each went down on strikes to make it five K's through four innings for the 6-3 left hander.
Chiles singled to shortstop to open the fifth as the Big Orange got their lead-off hitter on for the fourth straight inning. Kajitani stepped to the dish to lay down the sacrifice bunt but popped it up to register the first out. Schutzler slapped a sharp grounder into the hole at short that just barely traveled by Fox to place two aboard for Callahan. Her struggles continued at the plate as she looked at strike three as Mowatt improved her K total to seven. Huff struck out for the third time to leave two more stranded on the base paths as the scoreless duel continued.
Lowe started the eventual winning scoring threat in the bottom of the fifth by coming through with her third single of the contest on a infield base knock back to the circle. Arredondo followed by ripping a base hit to right field that was misplayed by Kajitani for an error allowing runners to end up at second and third with no one out. Fox was intentionally walked to load the bases and set up the force at every base with Leles stepping to the plate. She came through with a two-RBI single up the middle to score Lowe and Arredondo and bestow the Wildcats a 2-0 lead. Mesa came to the plate and drove an Abbott offering deep to right field and over the wall for a three-run homer to grant Arizona a 5-0 advantage. Banister popped out to short, Akamine struck out and Balko grounded out to third to finally end the frame, but not before U of A had nabbed a five-run lead.
With time running very short, Doepking led off the top of the sixth by drawing a walk against Mowatt as the lead-off runner reached for Tennessee for the fifth straight frame. Clay blooped a base knock to center to place two on as the Lady Vols refused to quit despite the big deficit. Horiuchi made solid contact but Arredondo squeezed the sphere for the first retirement. A wild offering from Mowatt, that Balko couldn't handle behind the plate, allowed the runners to advance 60 feet to second and third and into scoring position with Posey standing at the dish. Posey ripped a high chopper that ricocheted off the glove of a leaping Leles for a single to load the bases with the top of the order coming up. Chiles, who had been substituted for defensively with freshman Erinn Webb in the fifth, was re-entered in the line-up to hit. The Louisville, Ky., native lined a shot down the left field line that just dropped foul. Her eventual pop-up that threatened to drop in behind third was nabbed on an outstanding running play by Fox behind the bag for the second retirement of the sixth. The Weeklys summoned freshman Danielle Pieroni to the dish to pinch hit but she struck out after battling to a 3-2 count to leave the bases juiced and make it 11 Lady Vols stranded on the base paths.
Down to the last chance to extend their season in the seventh, Huff managed to draw a two-out free pass off Mowatt, but a groundout to third ended the contest and granted Arizona its eighth national title.