FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – A season-high 16 hits along with 11 runs and back-to-back homers from seniors Tonya Callahan and Shannon Doepking powered No. 8 Tennessee (27-5, 5-4 Southeastern Conference) to an 11-2 victory over Arkansas in the second game of a Friday doubleheader at Lady’Back Yard in Fayetteville, Ark. The consecutive homers were the first for the Lady Vols since April 5, 2006, against East Tennessee State.
Callahan led UT’s powerful offensive attack by going 2-for-3 with a season-high six RBI, three runs scored and a grand slam marking her eighth home run of the season and second of today’s doubleheader. Doepking was 2-for-5 with two RBI, a solo HR and a run scored. Sophomore center fielder Erinn Webb delivered a perfect 3-for-3 effort with a run-batted-in. Sophomore Allison Fulmer and freshman Natalee Weissinger each recorded an RBI during pinch hitting duty in the seventh frame.
Senior pitcher Megan Rhodes rebounded from a tough relief performance in the opener against UA to fire a complete game improving to 12-2 on the season. The Nashville, Tenn., native allowed two earned runs on five hits with seven strikeouts and most importantly no walks.
“Karen (co-head coach Weekly) and I were very proud of the way our kids responded in the day’s second game after a tough loss in the sixth inning of game one,” Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “We were really pleased with our pitching and hitting in the second game and especially in our RBIs.”
The fireworks began immediately in the first inning as both teams plated a run. Tennessee got on the board with one down as sophomore right fielder Tiffany Huff doubled into right center and continued to third as the ball was misplayed at the wall by Arkansas center fielder Jessica Bachkora. With a runner standing just 60 feet from paydirt, the UT coaching staff put on the suicide squeeze as Callahan dropped a perfect bunt to third allowing Huff to cross for a 1-0 lead. Callahan beat the throw to first and the ball was thrown well wide and down the first base line recording the second UA error of the frame as the Holden, Mo., native ended up occupying second. A pair of groundouts to short by Doepking and freshman first baseman Jen Lapicki ended the inning, but not before the Big Orange recorded the first tally on the scoreboard.
Arkansas fought back immediately in the bottom half of the first as Bachkora and second baseman Kayla Johnson started the inning with consecutive base hits. Rhodes settled down to strikeout designated player Miranda Dixon and third baseman Sandra Smith to move closer to escaping the jam. Catcher Whitney Cloer wouldn’t let her, however, by driving a sharp single to center that fell just in front of Webb scoring Bachkora to tie the contest at 1-1. Shortstop Dayna Huckabee lifted a ball into short right forcing second baseman Chandra Mogan to turn and make an outstanding over the shoulder catch to conclude the threat with no further damage.
A single from Webb and a sacrifice bunt by junior right fielder Danielle Pieroni placed a runner in scoring position with one out in the top of the second. Senior shortstop Kenora Posey slapped a ball into short left near the line for a hit allowing Webb to improve to third. Following a fly out to center from freshman designated player Kelly Grieve, Posey swiped second to station runners at second and third with two down. Rookie Chandra Mogan slapped a tough ball to second, but Arkansas’ Kayla Johnson made a running grab and threw quickly to first to retire the side.
Rhodes rolled through the bottom of the second one-two-three. The Nashville, Tenn., native induced pop-ups to short from first baseman Samantha Buckner and left fielder Jocelyne Moncrief and struck out right fielder Teighynne Hulsey.
Callahan started another Big Orange rally in the top of the third by drawing a one-out walk from Lady’Back hurler Miranda Dixon. Following a fly out to right off the bat of Doepking, Lapicki singled to left to place two aboard with two down. After taking a close pitch on 2-2, Webb delivered a bouncing RBI base knock between first and second to score Callahan all the way from second and regain the advantage at 2-1.
Rhodes continued to work quickly through the bottom of the fourth as the 5-8 right hander retired Arkansas three-up and three-down. That occurrence improved the count of retired batters to 10 in a row since she permitted UA’s run scoring single in the first.
Tennessee left a runner stranded at third base in the fourth inning and occupants at first and second following singles from Lapicki and Webb in the fifth while failing to add to its one-run lead. That upped the number of UT runners left stranded to eight through five frames.
An infield error on the Big Orange ended a streak of 12 straight retired by Rhodes and christened a scoring threat for Arkansas in the fifth as Moncrief reached base safely. Bachkora followed with a single into right center as Moncrief raced all the way around to third on the play. With two down and occupants at the corners, Rhodes forced Johnson to pop-up to shortstop Posey as the Los Angeles, Calif., native squeezed the ball for a big third out.
Needing some insurance on the scoreboard, Lady Vol junior pinch hitter Lillian Hammond ripped the first pitch she saw up the middle to start a threat in the sixth. Posey dropped a bunt in front of the plate and covered the distance to first so quickly that no throw was made by Henry. With occupants at first and second and still no one retired, Mogan was called upon to sacrifice the runners up 60 feet and performed her job perfectly. That brought a conclusion to Arkansas reliever Henry’s day as freshman Layne McGuirt was summoned into the circle to face Huff. She immediately fell behind 3-1 to the hitter before walking Huff to load the bases. That brought Tennessee career home run leader Callahan to the plate facing a huge RBI situation. The Holden, Mo., native delivered with a huge grand slam to deep right center for her second home run of the doubleheader and 43rd of her career upping UT’s advantage to 6-1. Doepking followed by blasting a solo shot to deep right to make it 7-1 as the Lady Vols hammered back-to-back big flies in a contest for the first time since April 5, 2006, against East Tennessee State. A strikeout, a walk and a groundout to second ended the frame but not before nine Lady Vols stepped to the plate in scoring five runs on four hits with two homers and two walks.
Granted a big lead, Rhodes pitched comfortably in the bottom of the sixth by striking out Dixon swinging and Smith looking for two quick outs. Cloer popped up a 3-2 pitch to Posey at short as UT advanced within three outs of its 27th win on the season and 10th in the last 11 meetings in the series over the Lady’Backs.
A single to left from Hammond opening the top of the seventh and a bunt base knock from Mogan pushed UT to a new season-high for hits with 15 in the contest. The previous high had been 14 in a 9-0 (6 inn.) thrashing of Nebraska at the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Columbus, Ga., back on March 2nd. Huff walked against reliever Kim Jones to load the bases for Callahan, who already owned a grand slam in the match-up. She was struck in the shoulder/arm by the first pitch from Jones to force in Tennessee’s eighth run. Doepking knocked in another run on a blooper to short left center as Mogan crossed the dish for a 9-1 lead. Sophomore pinch hitter Allison Fulmer was called on to hit and worked the count full before drawing a walk to bring home the 10th run. Freshman Natalee Weissinger also came on to pinch hit and delivered an RBI groundout to short improving the count to 11-1. With runners at the corners and two outs, senior pinch hitter Caitlin Ryan bounced a ball back to the circle as the curtain came down on a four-run assault that saw nine more Tennessee batters step into the batter’s box.
Despite a two-out solo home run allowed to pinch hitter Brittany Robison in the seventh, Rhodes finished the complete game and her 12th win of the season by getting Moncrief to fly out to right.
First pitch of Saturday’s series finale between No. 8 Tennessee and Arkansas is scheduled for noon ET at Lady’Back Yard in Fayetteville, Ark. Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com and, as always, periodic updates of the UT games will be recorded on the Lady Vol Hotline (865-974-8700, box #6).