LADY VOLS WELCOME ARKANSAS TO TYSON PARK FOR PIVOTAL SEC SERIES Tennessee Seeks to End Seven-Game Slide in League Play
KNOXVILLE - Heading down the homestretch of its Southeastern Conference schedule, the Lady Vol softball team hopes get back into the race for an SEC Tournament berth by hosting Western Division rival Arkansas (26-22/8-10 SEC) this weekend at Tyson Park. Riding the crest of a season-high five-game winning streak after capturing the Lady Vol Spring Invitational, Tennessee is 19-27 overall but just 4-13 in league play. The teams will meet in a 2 p.m. doubleheader on Saturday before having a single contest at 1 p.m. on Easter.
Boosted by an offense that hit .341 with seven doubles and six homers over the six tourney games last weekend, UT looks to improve upon its .183 clip through 17 conference games. With Arkansas batting just .172 in SEC play, the three-game set could come down to solid pitching and steady defense. Coming off of a Most Valuable Player performance at the Lady Vol Invite, senior second baseman Melissa Radley has been the most consistent hitter for head coach Jim Beitia's squad this spring. She is the lone Lady Vol above the .300 plateau with a .328 clip and has already established personal bests in RBI (24), stolen bases (nine), walks (nine), sacrifices (four) and home runs (two).
Senior left fielder Janette Koshell (.287, 16 RBI, five doubles in '01), senior center fielder Maura Mollet (.280, three doubles in '01) and freshman catcher Rachael Mink (.385 last weekend with five RBI) also represented the Orange on the 10-member all-tournament team. Junior first baseman Hannah Low (.213) has a team-best five homers to account for most of her 16 runs batted in.
In the circle, the one-two punch provided by sophomore Stephanie Humphrey (9-9, 2.07 ERA, 85 strikeouts) and freshman Leigh Ann Ellis (4-9, 2.09 ERA, 42 K's) has been quite effective this spring. Junior Nicole Borg has captured her last two starts to improve to 6-8 with a 3.64 ERA.
Arkansas sports a record of 26-22 overall after taking the Border War in Stillwater, Okla., on Wednesday against Oklahoma State (3-0) and Tulsa (10-1). The Lady'Backs are fourth in the Western Division after head coach Carie Dever-Boaz's squad took two of three games from Georgia in Fayetteville on April 7-8, (1-3, 6-1, 3-2 in eight innings).
Freshman Heather Schlichtman (18-10) is the staff's ace with a 1.19 ERA and 152 strikeouts in 178.1 innings. Hailing from Hermitage, Tenn., junior Rachel Talley is 8-12 with 115 K but the righty has compiled a 1.18 ERA. At .307, junior Danica Howlett is the only UA player above .300, and the catcher has 16 RBI and 13 walks to lead the team. Freshman Stephanie Hunter (.276) has stolen eight bases in 12 attempts. Rookie Cortney Mitchell (.240) has driven in 15 runs and occupies top spot in doubles (10) and triples (3). Sophomore Lauren Hendrix (.258) has smacked two homers with 12 RBI.
Arkansas made its first appearance at NCAA Regionals in 2000 and went 1-2 at Regional No. 3 hosted by eventual national champion Oklahoma. UA finished 44-31 and was third in the West with a 19-11 record.
In the teams' last meeting on April 28, 2000, at the Lady'Back Yard, UA handled the Lady Vols twice, 2-1 and 5-3. In the opener, Koshell provided the Orange with a 1-0 lead in the first with an RBI double that scored Mollet. UA would tie the game in the fourth on a base-hit by Kim Eiben that drove in Kirsten Henry. The hosts would eventually notch the win on a two-out hit to left field by Dana Gulick in the fifth that scored Katy Skaife. UT left the bases loaded in the seventh in absorbing the loss. Jackie Beavers yielded seven hits in going the distance, while Talley scattered five hits and fanned five to pick up the win. Jen Cirigliano and Gulick were 2-for-3 to lead the Lady'Backs, with five different Lady Vols recording one hit apiece.
The duo of Tammy Kincaid and Jennifer Bottoms helped Arkansas post the sweep with a 5-3 win in the nightcap. Kincaid (5.0 IP, 7 K, 4 hits) earned the win, with Bottoms going two innings for the save. Howlett (3-for-3) and Shari Wahrmund (2-for-2) keyed the victors' efforts, while Koshell and April Phillips had two hits each for the Lady Vols.
Arkansas holds a slim 6-5 edge in a series dating back to 1997, but has taken the last four outings. Oddly, the visiting team has never won any of the 11 meetings. UT is 4-0 in Knoxville and Arkansas is 4-0 at the Lady'Back Yard. The Lady Vols eliminated UA from the 1998 SEC Tournament but the Hogs returned the favor in 1999 by handing the Orange successive defeats at the double-elimination event.