CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. – Faced with its initial adversity of the young season, No. 6 Tennessee (2-0) responded to the challenge by rallying from two runs down to post a 5-2 victory over UC-Davis on a chilly Friday night at the Cathedral City Kickoff in Cathedral City, Calif.
Senior pitcher Megan Rhodes picked up her first win of the campaign by striking out 11 in a complete-game. The Nashville, Tenn., native allowed two runs, only one earned, on two hits in the match-up.
Offensively, senior third baseman Tonya Callahan knocked in a pair of tallies on a fourth inning single to grant UT the lead and improve her total to five RBI through the first two games of the 2008 season. Freshman designated player Jen Lapicki (1-of-2) hammered her first collegiate home run, and junior left fielder Lillian Hammond (1-of-4) also contributed an RBI single in the match-up.
“UC-Davis’ pitcher Jessica Hancock was extremely good tonight,” Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. “She beat three good Pac 10 teams last season, so she’s very capable in the circle. She was on tonight and had an umpire behind the plate with the perfect strike zone to maximize her effectiveness. We faced a tremendous challenge by getting down 2-0 and responded by coming back to win, 5-2. The coaching staff is extremely proud of the whole team for that comeback. There were a lot of heroes.
“In today’s opener against Utah State, it was neat to see Ashton Ward and Danielle Pieroni get in some good innings, and the team continue to evolve as an offensive threat. Overall, we thought Jen Lapicki hit very well in her collegiate debut, and all the freshmen played pretty well.”
Rhodes opened her initial action of the 2008 campaign in quite a zone by striking out UC Davis center fielder Trish Paine, shortstop Julie Stauder and designated player Erin Emde in order to conclude an utterly dominant top of the first inning.
Aggie hurler Jessica Hancock proved up to the task of facing Tennessee’s ace in the bottom half of the opening frame by K’ing senior shortstop Kenora Posey and Hammond for two quick outs. Callahan managed a walk to become the first UT base runner, but senior catcher Shannon Doepking flew out to left to end the frame.
UC-Davis left fielder Sarah O’Neill became Rhodes’ fourth strikeout victim by looking at strike three leading off the second inning. Catcher Deanna Menapace managed a walk to give the Aggies their initial base occupant, but a pop out to third base by Tracy Dean and a foul out behind the plate off the bat of first baseman Ashley Johnson that was handled by Doepking concluded the inning with no damage.
Lady Vol sophomore first baseman Tiffany Huff opened the bottom of the second with a sharp leadoff single into right center field. Lapicki was asked to move the runner up 60 feet and performed her job flawlessly by dropping a solid bunt out in front of the plate. Sophomore right fielder Erinn Webb was walked to place a pair on the basepaths. Unfortunately, consecutive strikeouts left the Tennessee pair stranded where they stood as the contest remained scoreless through two frames.
Doepking highlighted the top of the third for the Big Orange with a big defensive play by easily gunning down second baseman Jess Gonzalez (hit by pitch) attempting to steal second. The play cleared the basepaths and helped Rhodes continue her roll through the third.
The UT offense finally christened a serious threat with two outs in the bottom of the third as Callahan, Doepking and Huff drew consecutive walks to load the bases for the dangerous Lapicki. Despite battling hard, the Oldwick, N.J., product took a tough called strike three on the outside corner to raise Tennessee’s stranded runner total to six.
A fielding error on the Lady Vol infield permitted Stauder to reach first to christen UC-Davis’ half of the fourth inning. The base runner took off for second on a steal attempt and just managed to beat Doepking’s throw from behind the plate with no one retired. A solid single back through the middle by Emde moved Stauder to third, and a throw attempting to catch Emde trying to stretch her hit into a double was wild for another error allowing the runner to score from third for a 1-0 Aggie lead. Following a hit batter and a sacrifice bunt, Rhodes uncorked a wild pitch to the backstop that ricocheted off a metal fence post and put the two UC-Davis runners in motion. Pinch runner Jenny Corbett crossed from third on the wild offering to make it 2-0. Kajitani managed to track down the loose orb just up the first base line. She fired it to Doepking at the plate to cut down O’Neill, attempting to score all the way from second, for a vital out number two. Dean went down swinging against Rhodes to conclude the inning, but not before the Aggies had drawn first blood on the scoreboard.
The response from the Big Orange to its deficit was immediate in the bottom of the fourth. Webb led off with a base knock to left and moved to second on a walk to sophomore center field Anita Manuma. After fouling off numerous pitches, Kajitani bounced a ball out in front of the plate that caught the UC-Davis defense thinking foul ball. The home plate umpire disagreed with the Aggies assessment as the San Bernardino, Calif., native raced up the line to reach safely and load the bases with no outs. Freshman Chandra Mogan was inserted as a pinch hitter in place of Posey in the lineup. She fouled off several Hancock offerings before she bounced a ball back to the circle that the Aggie hurler caught and threw to the plate to force out the lead runner. With one down, Hammond got UT on the scoreboard with an RBI single back to the pitcher to cut the deficit to 2-1. Callahan followed with a clutch two-RBI base knock through the left side that gave Tennessee its initial lead of the contest. On the play Hammond was cut down attempting to move to third recording the inning’s second retirement. Doepking stepped into the batter’s box and drove a shot deep to left. That’s when controversy reared its ugly head as the ball cleared left fielder Michelle Espiritu and remained up against the bottom of the wall. At a full run, Espiritu managed to fall through the small portable wall in left allowing Doepking to end up on third with Callahan having crossed the plate with what was believed to be the Big Orange’s fourth run. The umpiring crew, however, decided to call the play a ground rule double and returned Callahan to third base. The questionable ruling cost Tennessee an important run as Huff bounced out to end the frame.
In the bottom of the fifth, UT got its lost run back as leadoff batter Lapicki blasted her first collegiate home run over the right center field wall to up the Orange & White advantage to 4-2. After a sharp ground ball from Webb was corralled for the first out, Manuma bounced a shot over third base and into left field for a single. Kajitani dropped a bouncer to short for a fielder’s choice, but the throw attempting to record the force play from Stauder to Gonzalez at second was dropped for an error. Posey grounded out to second to move both runners up 60 feet to second and third. With Hammond at the dish, UC-Davis pitcher Hancock uncorked a wild offering that allowed Manuma to cross with UT’s fifth tally. A strikeout ended the inning but not before Tennessee had added two more runs to the scoreboard.
After a quiet sixth inning for both teams, UC-Davis stepped in against Rhodes in the top of the seventh for its last offensive chance. UT’s hurler refused to let the Aggies get anything going by striking out Menapace, Dean and Johnson in order to up her total to 11 K’s for the game.
No. 6 Tennessee will begin its second day of the Cathedral City Kickoff at 12:30 p.m. PT on Saturday, Feb. 9, versus No. 20 Oregon at Big League Dreams Sports Park. Periodic updates will be provided on the Lady Vol Hotline at 865-974-8700 (box #6).