KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - In a contest plagued by a weather delay and periods of heavy rain, No. 6 Tennessee (23-4, 1-3 SEC) dropped a tough 2-0 decision to Kentucky (12-8, 1-0 SEC) on Saturday night at the Lee Softball Stadium. The Big Orange offense left nine runners on base in the defeat.
UT played tonight’s match-up short-handed as leading RBI producer Shannon Doepking (25 RBI) was forced to sit out the contest with a concussion she sustained in last Wednesday’s doubleheader versus Tennessee State. The Acton, Calif., native remains day-to-day heading into Sunday’s DH with the Wildcats.
“Kentucky was the best team tonight,” Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “We didn’t even show up to play. We were terrible in all aspects of the game: offense, defense and pitching.”
UK tallied the initial base runner of the contest in the top of the first as Rhodes walked second baseman Natalie Smith with one out. With shortstop Molly Johnson standing at the plate and a 2-2 count, she ripped a shot into left field that junior Lillian Hammond squeezed for what was initially believed to be the second retirement of the frame. The play was waved off, however, as UK’s Smith was judged to have left first base early recording the second out. It turned out to be a huge play in the inning as Johnson blasted a double down into the left field corner. Rhodes rebounded to strikeout left fielder Destinee Mordecai to end the threat.
Big Orange freshman designated player Kelly Grieve attempted to start a Lady Vol threat in the bottom of the first by beating out an infield single leading off the inning. Hammond popped up to the circle as Kentucky starting pitcher Amber Matousek made the play herself for out number one. Senior third baseman Tonya Callahan ripped a shot back up the middle, but the sphere traveled right into Matousek’s glove as she tried to sidestep the ball. The UK hurler turned and threw to Ashley Dimkich covering the first base bag for an inning-ending double play.
Both teams left runners stranded in the third as the scoreless deadlock continued. UK had occupants at first and second with two down before Mordecai grounded out harmlessly to second. In Tennessee’s half of the frame, Grieve walked and then Hammond drove a shot the other way to left that almost got over the head of retreating outfielder Mordecai. The Kentucky defender managed to make a leaping grab, however, to conclude the inning.
Posey made a highlight reel grab of a grounder off the bat of right fielder Audrey Meyer to begin the top of the fifth. With the infield playing in, Meyer’s sharp shot bounced back up the middle. Posey raced over from her position at short and made a diving grab before leaping to her feet and firing to first in time to catch the runner. A pop-out by catcher Megan Yocke and a groundout from Smith completed the inning with the score still 0-0.
Precipitation began to fall once again with two down in the bottom of the fifth. Posey drew a walk off Matousek and swiped her team-best 22nd base of the season to reach scoring position. Grieve battled the hurler through a long at-bat before grounding back to the circle as the UK pitcher threw over to first to end the frame.
With that, the heavens opened with rain, and the decision was made to roll the tarp back out on the field, delaying action beginning at 7:58 p.m.
Following a 32-minute delay, action re-commenced at 8:30 with Ward throwing a ball to Kentucky hitter Molly Johnson christening the sixth. After an extended battle that saw the count reach 3-2, and Johnson foul off five pitches, she walked granting the ‘Cats a lead-off base runner. UT’s 6-0 freshman hurler settled back into a groove by striking out Mordecai and inducing a pop-up to second base from designated player Samantha DeMartine. UK first baseman Ashley Dimkich became Ward’s second strikeout victim to bring the Lady Vols to the dish.
Hammond ripped a sharp single off the arm of third baseman Katie McCarty opening the bottom of the sixth. Callahan dropped a perfect sacrifice bunt out in front of the plate to advance the runner into scoring position with just one retired. Huff coerced a walk from Matousek and was replaced at the bag by freshman pinch runner Kelsey Stander. Lapicki bounced a slow grounder up the third base line that was nabbed by McCarty. The UK infielder turned and stepped on the third base bag to force the lead runner, but her throw to first in an attempt to get an inning ending double play was late. With two retired Webb battled to 3-1 and fouled a long fly ball into the bullpen down the left field line bringing the count full. The Hemet, Calif., native bounced into a fielder’s choice retiring the runner at second as both teams ventured to the final inning in a scoreless tie.
Down to the last frame of regulation, Kentucky managed to put runners on the corners with one out in the top of the seventh. McCarty led off the inning with a base knock to right and was joined on the base paths by Meyer who delivered a single to short center. Yocke delivered a little blooper into short right center that Webb charged on to make a running grab. McCarty decided to attempt to score from third despite the shallow nature of the fly out. Webb’s solid throw to the plate beat the runner by a step as Huff applied the tag for a huge third out.
The Big Orange went down in order in the bottom half of the seventh forcing the teams into extra innings. For Tennessee the occurrence marked the team’s initial foray into extra frames in 2008.
Following a leadoff infield base knock from Smith to begin the eighth, Johnson broke the scoreless tie with a long two-run home run to deep left as UK raced in front 2-0. A walk to DeMartine and a hit batter placed two on the base paths with still no one retired. Dimkich fouled out to Huff, McCarty flew to left and center fielder Meagan Aull struck out looking keeping the damage at just a pair of scores as the Lady Vols stepped to the dish for their last chance.
Grieve opened the eighth by working the count against Matousek full at 3-2, before grounding out to third base. Hammond also bounced harmlessly to third bringing the Big Orange to their final chance. Callahan ripped a blast back to the circle that seemed to stun Matousek as it ricocheted off the hurler’s arm for a single. That brought Huff to the dish in the clutch situation as the potential tying run. The Saugus, Calif., native drew a walk to place two aboard, and Lapicki followed with a base knock back up the middle loading the bags for Webb. Unfortunately for the Big Orange, she flied out to center completing the contest.
No. 6 Tennessee and Kentucky are now slated to play a doubleheader on Sunday at 1 and 3 p.m. at Lee Softball Stadium. Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com and, as always, periodic updates of the UT game will be recorded on the Lady Vol Hotline (865-974-8700, box #6).