April 9, 2009
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - With the regular season nearing its close and each league series becoming increasingly more vital for seeding purposes at the annual Southeastern Conference Tournament (May 7-9 in Knoxville, Tenn.), the No. 12 Tennessee Lady Vol softball squad (30-9-1, 7-6-1 SEC) returns home to the friendly confines of Lee Softball Stadium over April 10-11 to serve as host of an important three-game set against the Auburn Tigers (27-13, 7-7 SEC).
Because of the Easter holiday, the altered series schedule now boasts a single match-up between the two teams on Friday at 7 p.m. ET, with a Saturday doubleheader set to commence at 1 p.m. ET. The Sports Animal (990 AM, 99.1, 99.3 FM) will radio broadcast the final two games with either the "Voice of the Lady Vols" Mickey Dearstone or Chip Kain behind the microphone, while utladyvols.com is expected to video stream the series' final two contests.
The Big Orange holds a razor-thin, 18-16 advantage in the all-time series between the two programs and has won six of the last nine meetings. UT is 10-6 against the Tigers in Knoxville and swept its last home series with Auburn in 2007 at Tyson Park by scores of 10-0 (5 inn.), 2-1 (8 inn.) and 5-1. AU won last season's three-contest set on "the Plains," two games to one, after rebounding from an 8-4 loss in the opener to down the Lady Vols, 1-0 and 2-1 (8 inn.).
On Wednesday afternoon in Lexington, Ky., Tennessee split a frigid doubleheader with the Kentucky Wildcats. After routing UK 14-2 in five innings in the opener, the 'Cats bounced back to post a 6-5 win in the nightcap, rallying for three runs in the bottom of the seventh to overcome a two-score deficit.
Sophomore catcher/first baseman Jen Lapicki continued her offensive surge since entering SEC play, going 6-for-7 (.857) during the doubleheader with a double, a home run and eight RBIs. In the opener, the Oldwick, N.J., native posted a perfect 4-for-4 effort at the plate with a career-high six RBIs. Through 14 league contests, she currently leads the SEC in batting average at .524 (22-of-42) to go along with five two-baggers, three HR's and 13 RBIs.
A Top 25 finalist for the USA Softball National Player of the Year award, catcher/first baseman Tiffany Huff continued her amazing junior season by hitting .667 (4-of-6) against Kentucky with her seventh home run of the year and league-best 57th RBI. The Saugus, Calif., product now sits just one RBI from tying her career high of 58 RBIs established during her freshman year (2007).
Junior second baseman Nicole Kajitani improved her season batting average to a career-best .305 (.351 in SEC action) by going 4-for-9 with a double and a home run during the double-dip against the 'Cats. In the DH opener the San Bernardino, Calif., native posted a 3-for-4 effort with a HR and a career-high six RBIs.
The Auburn Tigers, under the leadership of 13th-year head coach Tina Deese, enter Friday's action at 27-13 overall and 7-7 in the SEC after winning their most recent league series at Arkansas (April 4-5) two games to one (4-3 in 8 inn., 2-4, 5-4). Over 40 contests this season, AU is hitting .255 overall and .258 in SEC games while scoring approximately four runs per game.
The Tiger offense is guided by senior Myesha Finney, who has tallied a .323 overall average with five doubles, a team-high six home runs and 18 RBIs. Sophomore Kyndall White has added a .321 average with eight two-baggers, three homers and 13 RBIs, and senior Tatiana Fernandez a .283 average with eight doubles, two HR's and a squad-best 20 RBIs.
From the circle Auburn boasts a solid three-member pitching staff that has combined for a 2.14 ERA and 20 complete games. Junior Anna Thompson currently rates third in NCAA Division I in strikeouts per seven innings (11.0) and 16th in total strikeouts with 186 K's in 118.1 innings of work. The Huntsville, Ala., native has registered a 13-7 record and a 1.72 ERA in 26 total appearances in 2009. Freshman Jenee Loree has burst on the scene at Auburn, posting an 11-5 record, a 2.31 ERA and 131 strikeouts in a staff-high 133.1 frames during her initial collegiate campaign. Fellow rookie Holly Ragsdale has provided 30.0 innings of support, recording a 3-1 mark and a 3.03 ERA with 14 K's. Also a big help to the pitching staff has been freshman catcher Elizabeth Eisterhold. The Owasso, Okla., product has thrown out a staggering 15 of 35 attempted base stealers from behind the plate to lead the league in that category.
All kids 12 and under are eligible to receive a voucher for a free hot dog and drink at Friday night's game, while Saturday is officially "Little League Softball Day" at Lee Softball Stadium. All little leaguers who show up to the park on Saturday wearing their jersey will receive free admission to the Tennessee-Auburn doubleheader.