KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Senior designated player Shannon Doepking (1-for-2, two walks) knocked in three runs helping guide a 10-hit attack as No. 11 Tennessee (40-7) downed Western Carolina, 11-3, and swept its Wednesday doubleheader at the Lee Softball Stadium. With the victory, UT posted its sixth consecutive 40-win campaign, all under the guidance of co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly. Today's doubleheader also completed an exhausting stretch of seven games in five days for the Big Orange.
Junior left fielder Lillian Hammond went 3-for-3 at the plate with two runs scored and swiped two of the Lady Vols’ eight bases in the contest, just one short of the single-game record of nine set last year at Kentucky. Freshman right fielder Kelly Grieve delivered a 1-for-3 effort with a pair of RBIs, two runs scored and a steal. With the theft, the Asheville, N.C., native now has 15 on the year, just one short of equaling the Tennessee freshman single-season record currently possessed by former Big Orange All-American Lindsay Schutzler (16, 2004). Fellow rookie second baseman Chandra Mogan went 2-for-2 at the plate with a run and a RBI.
Freshman right hander Ashton Ward improved to 21-3 overall by allowing three earned runs on just two hits with five K’s in three innings of work. Senior Megan Rhodes, the winner in game one versus the Catamounts, earned her fifth save of the campaign by permitting just one base knock over two frames of relief with one strikeout.
“We are really proud of the way our kids played in game one,” Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “I thought we came out very business-like and got the job done. As most SEC coaches know, mid-weeks are always tough outs during conference play. In the second game, I thought the kids may have gotten a little full of themselves and got behind 3-0 before realizing they had to work and do a good job of fighting back. We learned we have to play two full games in a doubleheader.”
Western Carolina utilized some wildness from Ward and a UT error in the top of the first to post three runs. Center fielder Jamie Swank opened the inning by reaching on a Lady Vol fielding miscue. Following a fielder’s choice for the first retirement, a single through the left side by second baseman Amber Hawkins placed runners at first and second. A pair of wild pitches from Ward allowed the initial run to cross the dish. Designated player Beth Hauser walked setting the stage for a two-RBI double off the bat of shortstop Stephanie Beatty as the Catamounts nabbed a three-run advantage.
Attempting to answer back in the bottom half of the first, senior shortstop Kenora Posey got a threat started with a single under the glove of reaching second baseman Amber Hawkins and into right center. The Los Angeles, Calif., native swiped second and eventually came around to score on a bouncing base knock through the right side of the infield by Mogan. Tennessee’s rookie second baseman also stole a base to reach scoring position with senior third baseman Tonya Callahan standing at the plate. The Holden, Mo., native kept the assault going with an RBI single into left center bringing Mogan home with UT’s second run and cutting the deficit to 3-2. Unfortunately for the Big Orange, a pair of fly outs and a pop-up on the infield concluded the frame with no further damage.
After Ward settled down to retire the Catamounts one-two-three with two K’s in the second, Tennessee’s Hammond christened a one-out threat in the bottom half by beating out an infield single that checked up just in front of the plate. The Chattanooga, Tenn., product swiped second to achieve scoring position. She was left stranded as Grieve bounced out routinely to second and Posey popped out behind third base.
With Tennessee still trailing on the scoreboard, Mogan opened the bottom of the third with a base knock through the right side. Sophomore pinch runner Nicole Kajitani stole second and was joined on the base paths by Callahan via a walk. With still none retired, Doepking drove a Michelle Tating pitch into the gap in left center bringing two tallies across and granting UT its first lead of the contest. After a fly ball advanced freshman pinch runner Natalee Weissinger up 60 feet to third, freshman first baseman Jen Lapicki dropped down a sacrifice bunt on the squeeze play scoring the runner for a 5-3 advantage.
Catamount shortstop Stephanie Beatty led off the top of the fourth with a clean single to right field. She never moved from that spot as Lapicki handled three consecutive pop-ups near first base to conclude the frame.
The Lady Vol offense exploded for three more scores in the bottom half of the fourth to nab a commanding 8-3 lead. Hammond bunted for a single and was joined on the bases by Grieve via an error on a throw by WCU third baseman Mollie Fowler. Posey and Kajitani each delivered sacrifice flies to score runners. Callahan and Doepking garnered consecutive walks to place two aboard with the former eventually scoring on a combination of two Western Carolina wild pitches.
Webb christened the bottom of the fifth with a blooper to center that dropped just in front of Swank for a single. Hammond followed that by beating out an infield hit to join her teammate on the base paths with zero outs. Grieve stepped to the plate and ripped a shot back past second and into right center plating two more runs as Tennessee expanded its advantage to 10-3. Grieve advanced to third on a foul pop outside of third off the bat of Posey. With the game-ending run standing just 60 feet from the plate, Kajitani was struck by a pitch to place runners at the corners with just one retired. Callahan was intentionally walked to load the bases for Doepking who entered today’s action hitting .600 (6-of-10) on the season with the bases juiced. The Acton, Calif., native didn’t get a hit, but did draw a walk to force in Grieve and end the game via run-rule.
No. 11 Tennessee’s next match-up won’t count in the official standings, but it will be plenty important as the U.S. Olympic Team arrives for a 3 p.m. exhibition on Saturday at the Lee Softball Stadium. ESPN will be in the house, but the game will be tape-delayed until May 14th. 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).