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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – No. 10 Tennessee (40-7, 10-6 Southeastern Conference) utilized solo home runs from senior third baseman Tonya Callahan and freshman first baseman Jen Lapicki and solid pitching from its trio of hurlers to hang with the “best team in the world” for a full seven innings, dropping a close 4-2 decision to Team USA and former Lady Vol hurler Monica Abbott on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the Lee Softball Stadium.
Through two innings of work, the Big Orange possessed a 2-0 lead after Callahan’s blast to deep center field in the bottom of the first and Lapicki’s bomb to right center in the second.
Senior starter Megan Rhodes (19-4) permitted just a single run and four hits over two innings of work against the U.S. team’s powerful line-up. Junior Danielle Pieroni took the exhibition defeat but pitched extremely well allowing four hits and three earned runs over a team-high 2.2 frames. Freshman Ashton Ward (21-3) entered the contest for Pieroni during the fifth and fired 2.1 no-hit innings with a strikeout.
Abbott, a native of Salinas, Calif., struck out 11 while allowing just two hits in a complete-game effort during her initial return to Knoxville for her first action at the new Lee Softball Stadium. To keep up with the four-time NFCA All-American's various trips with the U.S. National Team and the remainder of the "Bound 4 Beijing" Tour, please check out her official website at www.monicaabbott.net
“We’re very proud of the way our team performed today against Team USA,” Lady Vol co-head coach Karen Weekly said. “Our pitchers did a great job of keeping the best line-up in the world in check, and the defense made some great plays behind them. I thought our pitch selection at the plate by our hitters was very good today. Tonya Callahan and Jen Lapicki gave the team a lot of confidence with their early home runs.”
Despite a lead-off double from U.S. center fielder Caitlin Lowe and a Lady Vol fielding error on the UT infield to christen the top of the first, Rhodes battled back to force dangerous Red, White & Blue third baseman Crystl Bustos to fly out to deep center before striking out right fielder Kelly Kretschman to leave a pair stranded on the bases.
Tennessee’s confidence continued to grow in the bottom half of the first as Callahan drove a 3-2 offering from her former teammate Abbott well over the wall in deep center field granting the Orange & White a 1-0 lead.
After Rhodes quickly worked through the top of the second, allowing a harmless single to catcher Stacey Nuveman, Lapicki struck for the UT offense with one down in the bottom of the second with a solo shot to right center as Tennessee raced ahead 2-0.
Team USA finally got on the scoreboard in the third frame as Lowe’s second double of the afternoon and a single through the left side of the infield from shortstop Natasha Watley places runners at the corners with none retired. That ended Rhodes’ day as Pieroni was summoned into the contest in relief. Left fielder Jessica Mendoza greeted the Madison, Tenn., native by flying a 3-2 pitch from the new hurler to left for a sacrifice fly as the American squad cut its deficit to 2-1.
UT maintained its one-run advantage into the top of the fifth before Team USA’s power was exerted. Following a single from Watley, Mendoza blasted a two-run shot to right granting the Red, White & Blue their initial lead of the afternoon at 3-2. Kretschman followed one batter later with a solo homer to center than ricocheted off the Lady Vol flagpole as the Americans set the eventual final count at 4-2.
No. 10 Tennessee will return to the SEC slate on Wed., April 16th, at the Lee Softball Stadium with a mid-week doubleheader versus Ole Miss. 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).