KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Two home runs and three RBIs off the bat of senior Tonya Callahan, a solo homer and three RBIs from freshman Jen Lapicki and two RBIs from junior Danielle Pieroni highlighted No. 12 Tennessee’s (35-7, 9-6 Southeastern Conference) 9-0 (6 inn.) series-clinching victory over No. 14 Georgia (35-10, 8-5 SEC) on a rainy Saturday evening at the Lee Softball Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.
Senior pitcher Megan Rhodes was outstanding from the circle after entering the contest in relief, allowing just one hit while striking out one over 3.2 frames of work. With the triumph, the Nashville, Tenn., native improved to 16-4 overall and 6-4 in SEC action. Freshman Ashton Ward started the match-up for the Big Orange, working 2.1 innings, allowing two hits, walking one and K’ing one before giving way to Rhodes.
With her two home runs, including a walk-off two-run bomb in the sixth, Callahan improved her season HR total to 11 and her career total to a program-best 46. The Holden, Mo., native also became the first Tennessee player to hit two HR’s in a single game since former Lady Vol Sarah Vaughn performed the feat versus ETSU back on April 5th, 2006. The 5-8 third baseman currently leads the UT squad in batting average (.443), home runs (11) and RBI (42). She entered this weekend’s action against UGA leading the SEC in total bases, slugging percentage and on-base percentage while rating in the top three in batting average, home runs and RBI.
Lapicki hit a combined .800 (4-for-5) during the doubleheader to improve her season average to .317, while her home run in the nightcap marked her fifth of the campaign. With two RBI against Georgia during the 9-0 victory, Pieroni, a Madison, Tenn., product, has now knocked in a pair of runs in two of her last three games.
“These were two big wins for our program over a very good Georgia team,” Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “We used all three of our pitchers today. Each of them had some good innings and some not so good innings. Tonya Callahan continues to be one of the best impact players we’ve ever coached. Jen Lapicki and Danielle Pieroni came through with clutch hits for our team, and Megan Rhodes came up really big for us in game two. We know we’ll face a very tough Georgia team in the series finale tomorrow.”
After Ward retired the Bulldogs one-two-three in the top of the first, Tennessee’s offense exploded for five runs on just two hits in the bottom half of the inning. With a light rain beginning to fall, three different Georgia hurlers pitched in the opening inning and combined to walk five Lady Vols, including four in a row at one point. Following free passes issued to junior left fielder Lillian Hammond, Callahan and senior designated player Shannon Doepking, sophomore catcher Tiffany Huff became the fourth straight batter to walk forcing in UT’s first run. That ended starter Kate Gaskill’s day in the circle (25 pitches, only six were strikes) as UGA head coach Lu Harris-Champer brought in reliever Norie Glazebrook. Lapicki greeted her rudely with a two-RBI single to center as the count improved to 3-0. With runners on second and third, sophomore center fielder Erinn Webb walked to reload the bags and brought a conclusion to Glazebrook’s pitching efforts. Christie Hamilton came into the contest in relief and immediately permitted a two-RBI single to right off the bat of Pieroni as the Big Orange put up a five-spot in the opening frame while sending 11 batters to the plate.
Georgia christened a one-out threat in the top of the second with shortstop Megan Wiggins delivering a base knock. She advanced to third on a double from designated player Taylor Schlopy. Ward re-grouped to strikeout first baseman Christina Reed and induced a groundout from her counterpart in the circle Hamilton leaving a UGA duo stranded on the basepaths.
Tennessee’s Callahan improved the lead to six runs leading off the bottom of the second by blasting a long solo home run off a light pole in deep left center.
Following a one-out walk issued to right fielder Victoria Sanders and an infield error on the Lady Vols in the top of the third, the pitching revolving door continued as Rhodes was summoned into the contest in relief of Ward with runners occupying second and third. The Nashville, Tenn., native took immediate control from the circle ending the inning by inducing a pop-up to third from Alisa Goler and a groundout to short from catcher Melissa Wood.
Georgia managed base runners at first and third with one-out in the top of the fourth, but once again, Tennessee got out of the jam, this time via a fielder’s choice and a fly ball to right.
Lapicki demonstrated her immense power potential leading off the bottom of the fifth for the Big Orange. The Oldwick, N.J., product hammered an offering from Hamilton to deep left field and well over the wall for her fifth home run of the campaign as Tennessee nabbed a 7-0 advantage. After a foul out and a pop-up from the UT offense, Kajitani drove a pitch the other way into the right center field gap for a double. That brought up sophomore pinch hitter Anita Manuma with a chance to end the match-up via the run-rule. She lined a hard shot but right at first baseman Christina Reed as the fielder dropped the ball but recovered it in time to step on the bag for an inning-ending force.
With Rhodes having retired seven Bulldog hitters in a row from the fourth through the sixth innings, Tennessee came to bat in the bottom of the sixth looking to put an end to the contest by the run-rule. Hammond reached by an error on a dropped throw to first granting UT what seemed to be an important lead-off base runner. It really didn’t matter how many were on, however, as Callahan blasted her second home run of the contest, this one a two-run shot over the left field wall, to end the game with Tennessee taking a 9-0 triumph to sweep the doubleheader.
No. 12 Tennessee will wrap up its series against No. 14 Georgia on Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Lee Softball Stadium. 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).