March 23, 2007
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - A challenging home stretch awaits the Orange & White softball squad as No. 1 Tennessee (30-2, 8-2 SEC) will play nine contests over the next seven days beginning on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET with a three-game league series (March 24-25) at Tyson Park versus Southeastern Conference Western Division foe Arkansas (12-25, 0-5 SEC). UT has equaled the best 10-game league start in program history at 8-2 (2005) and has opened the season at 30-2, a single game better than the record-setting 2005 squad at the same point in its campaign (29-3).
The Orange & White enter the three-game set against the Lady Razorbacks riding a five-game winning streak overall, having won the last six match-ups between the two schools and with an 18-10 series advantage. Last season, Tennessee swept three match-ups from UA in Fayetteville, Ark., over April 1-2. Monica Abbott fired a no-hitter in the series opener on the way to a 5-0 victory. Seventh-inning outbursts of seven and three runs, respectively, in the latter two contests helped guide UT to the sweep with 8-1 and 6-0 triumphs. Lindsay Schutzler hit .429 (6-of-14) with two RBI and three stolen bases, Liane Horiuchi delivered at a .400 clip in limited time and India Chiles hit .375. During the 2005 campaign, weather conditions in Knoxville limited the teams to just two games which UT swept by 6-0 and 2-1 scores.
The schedule makers at the SEC did third-year Arkansas head coach Jamie Pinkerton and his squad no favors by forcing them to open league play against a 24-win South Carolina squad and follow that with road trips to battle Alabama and Tennessee, the top two teams in the current national polls. As a result, the Lady'Backs have limped off to an 0-5 start in their conference slate while hitting just .167 in SEC contests with a 4.97 ERA, both 10th in the league. Overall, UA is hitting .236 for the season while scoring only 2.9 runs per contest. The pitching staff has allowed 4.6 runs a match-up and posted the second-worst ERA in the conference counting all games at 3.71. Freshman outfielder Jessica Bachkora is heading the offense with a .357 batting average to go along with seven doubles, three triples and nine RBI. Junior infielder Dayna Huckabee (.300) is responsible for a team-best five of the squad's nine total HR's while acting as the only other Lady'Back currently sitting at or above the .300 mark. Junior pitcher Katy Henry (7-11) has been the main workhorse for UA by throwing 132 innings with a 3.61 ERA, 11 complete games and 138 K's. Freshmen Miranda Dixon (3.52 ERA, 3-10, 46 K's in 71.2 IP) and Teighynne Hulsey (4.51 ERA, 2-4, 33 K's in 35.2 IP) have rounded out the efforts of the three-member staff. Defense has definitely been an issue for the Lady'Backs with 50 errors and a .951 fielding percentage to rank 10th of 11 schools in the SEC. As a result of the miscues, Arkansas has allowed 43 unearned runs during the campaign for an average of 1.2 per game.
Despite battling adversity with key injuries, Tennessee enters the series with the Red & White on a five-game winning streak. Junior catcher Shannon Doepking has been the recent heroine for the Lady Vols with three game-winning hits in UT's last seven contests. During the doubleheader sweep of South Carolina on Wednesday evening, the Acton, Calif., native continued her recent clutch efforts by blasting a walk-off, two-run home run to left field in the bottom of the seventh inning to grant the Big Orange the opener by a 2-0 count. Previously, Doepking knocked in the game-winner in the top of the seventh of a 1-0 win at Ole Miss (March 14) and ripped a walk-off double into the gap in left center during the eighth frame of a 2-1 win against Mississippi State (March 17). The pitching staff continued its impressive work as senior Monica Abbott fired a two-hit, 15-K shutout in the first contest against USC, and combined with junior starter Megan Rhodes (5 IP, 1 H, 6 K) to blank the Gamecocks, 1-0, in the nightcap.
Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com (Gametracker) for the series between the Lady Vols and Lady Razorbacks, and periodic updates will be provided to the Lady Vol Hotline at 865-974-8700 (box #6). Both ends of Saturday's doubleheader will be broadcast live on The Sports Animal (99.1, 99.3 FM, 990 AM, Yahoo Sports through utladyvols.com) with Jeff Jacoby on the call.