Erinn Webb (14)
Feb. 23, 2009
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - After three challenging but successful road trips that saw the calendar advance deep into the month of February, the No. 9 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (14-1) finally returns to Knoxville, christening its home slate with a single match-up versus Liberty at 3 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Feb. 24th, at the Lee Softball Stadium.
The Big Orange remains perfect against the Flames, maintaining a 13-0 overall record in a series that has been played at least once a season since 2003. During the 2008 campaign UT swept a doubleheader from LU by scores of 8-2 and 7-1. In last year's DH opener Tennessee's Tiffany Huff led a nine-hit Lady Vol offensive attack by going 3-for-3 at the plate with four RBIs, including a two-run homer and a pair of doubles. Then-freshman hurler Ashton Ward cleaned up in the nightcap and garnered her 20th career victory by tossing a complete-game, four-hitter with six strikeouts.
Last weekend at the prestigious Cathedral City Classic in Cathedral City, Calif., the Lady Vols extended their 2009 winning streak to 12 games while tallying a 5-0 record with wins over Loyola Marymount (5-0), #23/15 UMass (6-1), Hawai'i (3-2), Cal Poly (8-6, 8 inn.) and Oregon State (4-0). UT now possesses a 20-3 record at the Big League Dreams facility and a 15-3 slate in the Cathedral City Classic (formerly the Palm Springs Classic). Tennessee joined Pac-10 stalwarts Washington and UCLA as the only undefeated teams to emerge from the 32-team field.
Freshman hurler Cat Hosfield was outstanding for the Orange & White in posting a 4-0 record with a 1.11 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 25.1 innings of work. The Murfreesboro, Tenn., product fired a complete-game shutout against Loyola Marymount, held a powerful #23/15 UMass line-up to just two hits after the Minutewomen had just hammered N.C. State, 14-0, in their previous contest and picked up victories in nerve-wracking relief appearances against Hawai'i and Cal Poly. Her efforts were rewarded on Monday as she picked up her first Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week honor.
Rookie third baseman Jessica Spigner led the UT offense by hitting .500 (7-of-14) with a pair of homers, raising her team-best total to five. Fellow frosh Shelby Burchell delivered three big flies, including a pair in the match-up against nationally-ranked UMass, while tallying a .333 average. Freshman shortstop Ashley Andrews (.429) and senior left fielder Lillian Hammond (.421) each hit at over a .400 clip, with the latter also swiping five bases in five attempts. Junior catcher/first baseman Tiffany Huff continued to knock in runs, adding six more RBIs to her squad-best total of 27 through just 15 games. Sophomore center fielder Kelly Grieve led an outstanding defensive effort for Tennessee by crashing through temporary fencing twice to rob both Hawai'i and Cal Poly of vital homers. Hammond also got into the fence-crashing thievery with a HR-saving catch against Oregon State.
Under the guidance of long-time head coach Paul Wetmore, Liberty enters Tuesday's contest at 0-5 overall. That mark, however, is as much of a reflection of their early-season schedule as anything. The Flames got off to a tough start over Feb. 6-8 at the Cathedral City Kickoff with contests against ranked teams, #17 California (1-15, 5 inn.), #14 Fresno State (0-2) and #24 Long Beach State (2-5), and match-ups versus Cal State Northridge (0-13, 5 inn.) and UC Davis (0-5).
Sophomore utility player Ashley Bensinger leads the offense with a .300 average (3-of-10) and a double as the Flames enter hitting just .153 as a team with three total runs scored. Junior infielder J'nae Jefferson (.231) owns the squad's only homer and lone RBIs (2). From the circle senior Sarah Ellis has tossed a squad-high 16 innings, posting a 0-3 mark with a 3.50 ERA and 12 K's. Sophomore Tiffani Smith has served as the No. 2, totaling 10 frames in the circle with a 0-2 record and a 7.00 ERA. The Flames possess a .914 fielding percentage with 12 errors committed in their five total contests.
Later this week, the ninth-ranked Lady Vols will serve as host to the second-annual Tennessee Classic over February 27-29 at Lee Softball Stadium. UT will open its stay at the event against Bowling Green on Friday at 2:30 p.m. Live stats will be available for all games played at Lee Softball Stadium, including all Tennessee contests.