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Ward tosses two-hitter as UT wins 2-0

Box Score

COLUMBIA, S.C. – With strong winds gusting straight in from right center field at upwards of 30 mph and rain a constant threat, the No. 8 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (26-4, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) required extra frames but won the opener of a doubleheader from the South Carolina Gamecocks (13-13, 2-5 SEC) by a 2-0 count in nine innings on Wednesday afternoon at Beckham Field in Columbia, S.C. 

Freshman hurler Ashton Ward was outstanding in the circle for Tennessee, allowing just two hits and striking out five over nine innings of work to improve to 15-2 on the campaign.  The Charlotte, N.C., native was especially efficient requiring just 84 pitches over the nine frames while improving her season ERA to 1.39.

Rookie pinch hitter Chandra Mogan picked up the game-winning hit on a clutch RBI single with one down in the top of the ninth.  Tennessee sophomore catcher Tiffany Huff led the Lady Vol attack with a 3-4 effort.  The Big Orange offense banged out 10 hits in the match-up, but also left 11 runners stranded on the base paths. 

Despite a one out walk permitted by Ward in the bottom half of the frame, the hurlers, including South Carolina’s Melissa Hendon, roared through the first inning of play with no hits allowed and each hurler posting one strikeout.

Huff became Tennessee’s initial base runner with one out in the top of the second as her single bounced off the very edge of third baseman Becky Martinez’s glove, as she stretched in an attempt to make a play, and into left field.  Unfortunately for the Big Orange the runner remained at first as sophomore center fielder Erinn Webb flew out to left, and freshman first baseman Jen Lapicki was caught looking at a change-up from USC’s Hendon for strike three.

Gamecock shortstop Lindsay Walker christened the South Carolina second with a slow roller up the third base line.  Senior Tonya Callahan raced in from her defensive position but lost her footing while deciding whether the ball might roll foul.  Unfortunately, the tip of her glove briefly touched the ball as it rolled between her legs allowing Walker to reach safely.  Martinez attempted to drop a sacrifice bunt to advance the runner, but popped the ball up in front of the plate.  Huff raced out from behind the dish to squeeze the sphere for the first retirement.  First baseman Chrissy Schoonmaker flew out to left, and catcher Cassie Gogreve grounded out to Callahan to end the inning with the game still scoreless.

Tennessee managed a lead-off walk from junior right fielder Danielle Pieroni starting the top of the third and received a two-out infield single off the bat of senior second baseman Kenora Posey to place two on the base paths.  The number left stranded for the Big Orange grew to three through just two innings, however, as Callahan bounced routinely into a fielder’s choice to short.

With Ward having retired six consecutive batters through the third, UT tried to put together a little offensive rally in the top of the fourth.  Huff improved to 2-for-2 on the day with another single through the left side.  Following a fielder’s choice for the second out and a stolen base from sophomore Erinn Webb, some bad luck for the Big Orange as Lapicki drilled a liner back to the circle.  Potentially headed up the middle for an RBI, the shot ricocheted off the foot of a leaping Hendon.  The ball traveled directly to USC second baseman Ashton Payne, who caught the orb and threw on in time to first preventing a possible Tennessee run.

A Hendon delivery was blasted into deep right field by Huff for a two-out, sixth-inning double as the Saugus, Calif., native improved to a perfect 3-for-3 on the afternoon.  With the runner occupying second base, Webb stepped in and grounded a ball back up the middle.  The sphere looked as if it might escape through the infield, but USC’s Walker raced near the second base bag, made the grab and threw on to first retiring the Tennessee side.

Two pitches equaled two quick outs for Ward in the bottom of the sixth.  Carolina left fielder Whitney Wierzbicki grounded out to Callahan at third, and right fielder Jessica Josker popped up to freshman Kelly Grieve at short.  A beautiful change-up from UT’s 6-0 right hander froze Payne ending the frame and making it 15 straight Gamecocks retired in the match-up.

With heavy rain closing in on Beckham Field and still no score heading into the last frame of regulation, Lapicki began a scoring threat in the top of the seventh by leading off the inning with a clean single through the left side of the infield.  Sophomore outfielder Anita Manuma ripped a ball over Hendon’s glove and into center as the eventual throw to third was late attempting to get freshman pinch runner Kelsey Stander.  On the toss, Manuma raced into scoring position at second base.  Posey followed with a slap to short that Walker fielded on the run and threw to the plate.  The toss was in time as the catcher Gogreve tagged out Stander at the plate keeping UT off the scoreboard.  Grieve walked to load the bags, but Posey bounced right back to Hendon in the circle for a fielder’s choice force play at the dish for the second out.  Callahan stepped in and worked the count in her favor at 2-1 before fouling off a couple of pitches.  A high pop-up behind the plate left the bags packed and Tennessee off the scoreboard as the total grew to nine Big Orange runners left on base.

Down to their last chance in regulation, South Carolina center fielder Laura Mendes bounced the first pitch she saw to Posey at second for a quick out.  Ward tallied her fourth strikeout of the match-up with a swinging K of substitute outfielder Cagney Davis.  That brought Walker to the plate with two down in the frame.  She ripped a shot off the end Callahan’s glove at third that bounced right to Grieve.  The shortstop made a strong throw across the diamond just in time to nail the runner and retire the side on an outstanding play.

With extra softball necessary, Doepking granted the Lady Vols their second lead-off base runner in a row with a bloop single into left center to start the eighth.  Sophomore Nicole Kajitani was summoned into the contest to pinch run for Doepking, but was promptly called out for leaving early by first base umpire Keith Kearney.  Following a line out from Huff, Webb was struck by a pitch with two down.  With Lapicki standing at the dish, the Hemet, Calif., product swiped second reaching scoring position.  Lapicki popped up on the infield as the inning came to a close.

Martinez opened the Garnet & Black half of the eighth with a double that bounced off the glove of a diving Webb in right center field for a lead-off double. A sacrifice bunt from Schoonmaker advanced the runner up to third just 60 feet from ending the game.  Gogreve hit a ball off the end of her bat, but the easy catch was dropped on the infield by UT for an error placing runners at the corners with still just one down.  Facing a daunting situation where anything might score a USC run and end the contest, pinch hitter Jacqueline Weatherbee grounded a ball to Posey.  The Los Angeles, Calif., native corralled the ball and tagged Gogreve on the way by before outracing Weatherbee to the first base bag for the rare unassisted, inning-ending double play. 

With new life after surviving the eighth inning threat, Tennessee got some more help from the Gamecocks as Manuma’s lead-off ground ball to second was booted allowing her to reach safely.  Hammond dropped a potential sacrifice bunt, but reached on a single as some miscommunication on the infield placed runners at first and second with still no one retired.  Grieve followed with a high chopper to third that ricocheted off Martinez’s glove.  Unfortunately, the strange bounces continued, as the ball traveled right to Walker, who was racing over from short.  She caught the ball and stepped on the third base bag just in time to retire Manuma for the first out.  Placed in the line-up to hit for Posey, Mogan came through with the biggest hit of the contest with a single up the middle as Hammond raced around from second tallying the game’s initial run.  With runners at the corners and just one down, co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly pulled off some trickery as Callahan dropped a bunt on the squeeze play and Grieve scored from third improving the count to 2-0.  Doepking flied out to right, but not before Tennessee had grabbed a lead.

Josker flew out to deep left to open the Gamecocks’ last chance in the bottom of the ninth.  Ward managed to coerce an easy groundout to second base from Payne to bring Mendes to the dish with USC’s last opportunity.  She became Ward’s fifth strikeout victim as the rookie hurler wrapped up the complete-game, two-hit shutout.   

After its final game of the doubleheader at South Carolina at approximately 5:45 p.m. ET on Wednesday, No. 8 Tennessee will continue its week-long road trip by venturing to Fayetteville, Ark., for a three-game set over Friday and Saturday, March 21st and 22nd against the Arkansas Lady Razorbacks.  First pitch of Friday’s doubleheader is scheduled for 5 p.m. ET.  Live stats will be available through and, as always, periodic updates of the UT game will be recorded on the Lady Vol Hotline (865-974-8700, box #6).




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