FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Freshman second baseman Chandra Mogan’s two RBIs helped No. 8 Tennessee (28-5, 6-4 Southeastern Conference) to a 4-2 victory over Arkansas on Saturday at Lady’Back Yard in Fayetteville, Ark., securing the league series triumph for the Orange & White.
Mogan was 1-for-4 at the dish, knocking in her two runs via a single in the third frame and a fielder’s choice during the sixth. Junior left fielder Danielle Pieroni ignited the Lady Vol offense with a 1-for-2 effort and two walks while also plating two runs. Senior third baseman Tonya Callahan (1-for-2), senior catcher Shannon Doepking (1-for-4), sophomore center fielder Erinn Webb (1-for-4) and junior designated player Lillian Hammond (1-for-2, run scored) each tallied hits for the Big Orange offense. Sophomore right fielder Tiffany Huff was also credited with an RBI on a groundout during Tennessee’s two-run sixth.
In a relief effort, senior Megan Rhodes garnered her 13th victory of the campaign by hurling 3.1 innings of three-hit ball and allowing no runs with three K’s. Freshman starter Ashton Ward struck out eight over 3.2 frames while permitting two runs on three hits. The Charlotte, N.C., native earned her second save of the season after re-entering the contest in the seventh inning with Arkansas runners on first and second and just one down.
“It’s good to finish this long road trip at 3-1,” Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “Our kids played hard, and we got some clutch pitching out of Ward today with the game on the line in the seventh inning. Chandra Mogan and Danielle Pieroni both stepped up offensively and made some things happen for our team.”
Both pitchers came out firing as Arkansas’ Katy Henry and Tennessee’s Ward each raced through the opposing line-up one-two-three in the opening frame. UT’s 6-0 right hander struck out Lady’Back center fielder Jessica Bachkora and second baseman Kayla Johnson before inducing a routine ground ball to short from designated player Miranda Dixon.
Despite permitting a two-out single to UA shortstop Dayna Huckabee in the bottom of the second, Ward continued to dominate the early going by recording two more K’s upping her strikeout total to four through just two frames of work.
Pieroni granted the Lady Vols their initial base runner in the top of the third with a lead-off single to right center. Hammond dropped a perfect sacrifice bunt to third advancing the runner up 60 feet into scoring position. Senior shortstop Kenora Posey slapped a ball to third that was nabbed by Arkansas’ Sandra Smith. Unfortunately for the Lady’Backs, Smith’s throw was well off target for an error allowing Pieroni the opportunity to cross the plate with the game’s initial run. Mogan followed with a lined single over the third baseman’s head and down the left field line, bringing Posey home from second for a 2-0 advantage. Following a groundout by Huff, Callahan was intentionally walked and Doepking reached on a fielding error by UA’s Huckabee at short to load the bases. A strikeout ended the inning, but not before the Lady Vols had nabbed a two-run advantage.
Ward struck out the side in the bottom of the third as the 6-0 right hander punched out left fielder Brittany Robison, right fielder Jocelyne Moncrief and Bachkora in order to improve her total K count to seven.
Pieroni tried to get another Lady Vol rally going in the top of the fourth by drawing a one out walk. Hammond reached on Arkansas’ third error of the match-up as her ground ball to second base was misplayed placing two UT runners aboard. Unfortunately, Posey was judged to have been struck by a batted ball in the field of play recording out number two. Mogan bounced out to second base to complete the inning with no further damage on the scoreboard.
The Lady’Backs finally got to Ward in the bottom of the fourth as Johnson led off the inning with a single and came around to score on a double off the wall in left center from Dixon as UA cut its deficit to 2-1. That brought an end to Ward’s day in the circle as Rhodes was brought into the contest in relief. After forcing catcher Whitney Cloer to pop-up her bunt attempt for an out, Smith ripped a sharp ground ball past short and all the way to the wall in left center for a run-scoring double to tie the contest. Tennessee’s hurler settled in forcing Huckabee to fly out to left, and then struck out first baseman Samantha Buckner to conclude the inning.
With one retired in the top of the fifth, Callahan ripped a shot into center for a single. Doepking followed with a double to right center placing runners at second and third. Lapicki grounded out to first on a checked swing for the second out. Webb hammered a hard shot but right back to the circle, however, as the ball traveled directly into Miranda Dixon’s glove. She threw on to first for the out leaving two Lady Vols stranded in scoring position.
Bidding to break the deadlock, Arkansas’ Robison opened UA’s half of the fifth with a double into the left field corner. Rhodes struck out Moncrief recording an important first retirement to bring up UA’s lead-off hitter. Bachkora barely got under a pitch and lifted a fly down the right field line that was squeezed by Huff as the runner tagged up and advanced to third. Johnson quickly fell behind in the count 0-2 and fouled off a pitch before flying out harmless to Pieroni in left leaving the Lady’Back runner standing 60 feet from paydirt.
For her third straight plate appearance, Pieroni managed to reach base safely. The Madison, Tenn., native drew a walk from Dixon starting the top of the sixth. Hammond ripped a shot that forced Arkansas shortstop Huckabee to dive for the ball giving her no chance to make a play as runners ended up at first and second with no one retired. With Posey at the plate attempting to drop the sacrifice bunt, Dixon uncorked a wild pitch that traveled to the backstop allowing both runners the chance to advance 60 feet. Posey was removed with a 1-1 count in favor of sophomore pinch hitter Anita Manuma, but the move didn’t pay off as the Ewa Beach, Hawai’i native struck out swinging. Mogan worked the count full at 3-2 before bouncing a routine ground ball to second. UA’s Johnson corralled the ball and decided to throw to the plate in an attempt to prevent the run from scoring. Her throw was a little to the first base side of the plate as the catcher Cloer had to reach slightly to grab the ball. That made the tag just a little late as freshman pinch runner Kelsey Stander slid across home for a 3-2 lead. With runners at the corners and still only one retired, Huff bounced out to short as Hammond raced across with Tennessee’s fourth run. Callahan was intentionally walked for the second time in the contest, but Doepking grounded out to short to end the inning.
Staked to a two-run advantage, Rhodes christened the bottom of the sixth by getting Dixon to pop-up to Doepking in foul ground near the plate. Cloer was struck on the hand by a pitch bringing the potential tying run to the dish in the form of Arkansas clean-up hitter Smith. A wild offering that traveled to the backstop allowed the runner the chance to advance 60 feet into scoring position with just one retired. Rhodes settled down by catching Smith looking at a big strike three on the outside corner. With two down, Huckabee grounded out slowly to Callahan at third, concluding the inning and leaving a Lady’Back standing on second.
Arkansas attempted a furious rally during their last chance of regulation as Robison singled to left and Rhodes hit Moncrief with an offering to put runners at first and second with just one down. Ward was brought back into the game in an attempt to stem the Arkansas threat. She battled out of a 2-1 hole to strikeout Bachkora and claw within one out of securing the series for the Big Orange. Johnson fell behind 1-2 before grounding sharply to third. Callahan corralled the ball on her knees near the bag, pivoted and tagged the base with her glove, forcing the lead runner and ending the hard-fought contest.
No. 8 Tennessee will return home to Lee Softball Stadium to face Lipscomb on Tuesday, March 24th, in a doubleheader scheduled for 5 p.m. ET. 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).