KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – With a 5-1 victory over No. 14 Georgia (35-11, 8-6 Southeastern Conference) in Sunday’s series finale at the Lee Softball Stadium, No. 12 Tennessee (36-7, 10-6 SEC) registered its first Knoxville sweep over the Bulldogs in program history and raised its overall winning skein against UGA to six straight following last season’s three-game sweep in Athens, Ga.
Senior pitcher Megan Rhodes was outstanding from the circle in picking up her third consecutive victory of the weekend over Georgia and improving to 17-4 overall and 7-4 in SEC action. The 5-8 right hander struck out six while allowing just one hit and one unearned run over 6.2 innings of work.
The Tennessee offense banged out seven hits including two from senior lead-off batter Kenora Posey, raising her season average to .374. Sophomore second baseman Nicole Kajitani blasted her first home run of the season during her only at-bat of the contest. Senior catcher Shannon Doepking (1-for-1) contributed two RBIs and a walk, while sophomore right fielder Tiffany Huff went 1-for-3 and knocked in a pair of runs.
During the vital SEC Eastern Division series, the Big Orange outscored the Bulldogs by a commanding 20-5 total, out hit them 20-11 and .294-.155 average-wise, blasted four home runs and recorded 18 RBIs.
Freshman Jen Lapicki led the way during the three-game set with a .571 (4-for-7) average, her fifth home run of the season and a team-high five RBIs. Callahan hit .500 (3-for-6), scored four times, blasted a pair of homers, slugged at a 1.667 clip and knocked in three runs. The Holden, Mo., native exits the series with Georgia now hitting a staggering .475 overall during conference play, remarkable for a non-slap hitter, with seven HR's and 15 RBIs. Posey contributed a .444 average with a triple and a run-batted-in, and Huff hit .429 (3-for-7) with three RBIs.
“I thought today was all about the seniors,” Lady Vol co-head coach Karen Weekly said. “They showed tremendous leadership for our team all weekend. Megan Rhodes was fantastic today in the circle, coming in and shutting down a very good Georgia team. Every inning, every pitch, she is getting back to being the pitcher we know she is capable of being. Kenora Posey gave us the spark we’ve been looking for from the lead-off position. I was really proud of the way Caitlin Ryan battled during each of her at-bats today. Tonya Callahan and Shannon Doepking continued providing the production that they have all season for our team. Nicole Kajitani’s home run was a huge lift for our team. She’s one of our hardest working players, so it’s good to see all her hard work pay off.”
Georgia took advantage of a lead-off walk starting the contest as center fielder Victoria Sanders coerced a five-pitch free pass off UT starter Ashton Ward. A sacrifice bunt from left fielder Sojourner Moody advanced the runner 60 feet to second with just one out. With Taylor Schlopy at the plate, Sanders took off on a steal attempt and the pitch bounced in the dirt. As the runner was reaching third, Doepking’s hurried throw drifted wide of the base and into left field allowing Sanders to tally the first run of the contest. That brought an end to Ward’s day in the circle as Rhodes entered in relief and struck out Schlopy and shortstop Megan Wiggins.
Attempting to immediately answer UGA’s score, Posey opened the bottom of the first with a slap single into left field. A sacrifice bunt from freshman second baseman Chandra Mogan and a groundout to the right side of the infield by Callahan advanced Posey all the way to third with two retired. Unfortunately, a strikeout ended the inning as the Bulldogs maintained their 1-0 advantage through the opening frame.
After Rhodes retired Georgia one-two-three with a pair of K’s in the top of the second, the Lady Vol offense exploded for three runs on three hits in the bottom half of the frame. Left fielder Lillian Hammond christened the inning with a slap hit into left field. Posey bounced a single to deep short placing runners at first and second with still none retired. Following a popped-up bunt, Callahan drew a walk off Schlopy to load the bases for Doepking. The Acton, Calif., native blasted a shot to deep right that traveled plenty far enough to score Hammond from third via the sacrifice fly and tie the game at 1-1. With runners occupying second and third and two outs, Huff laced a clutch single under the glove of UGA second baseman Kristin Schnake and into right field. Posey scored easily, but having to race all the way around from second, Callahan was forced to slide in just under Wood’s tag at the plate granting Tennessee a big 3-1 advantage.
With the Bulldog offense under the firm control of Rhodes, having allowed just one hit through 4.2 innings, the Big Orange offense added to its lead in the bottom of the fifth. Kajitani led off the frame with a towering drive to the deepest part of the ballpark. The ball cleared the very top of the wall in center field for a solo shot to register the San Bernardino, Calif., native’s first big fly of the year and second of her career as UT nabbed a 4-1 lead. Callahan followed with a ringing double into the left field corner and eventually ended up standing on third following an error by Georgia during the relay throw to second. Doepking came through with a clutch RBI single into left center as freshman pinch runner Natalee Weissinger plated the Orange & White’s fifth tally.
From there it was mainly left to Rhodes to wrap up things from the circle. Despite a one-out fielding miscue that allowed a Georgia base runner in the sixth, the Nashville, Tenn., native rolled through the UGA line-up. She ended the contest in the seventh by inducing a pair of ground ball outs and getting a stellar defensive play by junior left fielder Danielle Pieroni. On a full sprint, the Madison, Tenn., product caught a fly ball while colliding into the fence in foul territory down the left field line.
No. 12 Tennessee will return to action on Tuesday afternoon at the Lee Softball Stadium as Liberty visits Knoxville for a re-scheduled doubleheader. First pitch is slated for 3 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).