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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Left hander Tara Willitt held No. 9 Tennessee’s (40-8, 10-7 Southeastern Conference) offense in check as Ole Miss picked up a 1-0 victory over the Lady Vols in the opener of the two teams’ Wednesday doubleheader at the Lee Softball Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.
Senior third baseman Tonya Callahan led UT’s offense by going 1-for-1 at the plate while drawing two walks. Freshmen Chandra Mogan and Jen Lapicki each registered a hit in the match-up.
Megan Rhodes (19-5) took the loss for the Big Orange as the senior allowed just one run on seven hits while striking out five over 3.1 innings of work. Freshman Ashton Ward was stellar in relief permitting only a single hit and K’ing two in 3.2 frames.
A lead-off single from Ole Miss center fielder Courtnie Ghinaudo opened the top of the first. Second baseman Lisa Conchos dropped a sacrifice bunt up the first base line that forced Lapicki to race up from her defensive position. The freshman first baseman scooped the ball, turned and fired to second cutting down the lead runner. That play proved very important in the frame as shortstop Lauren Grill reached via an infield error and Rhodes uncorked a wild pitch eventually moving runners to second and third with one retired. UT’s 5-8 right hander rebounded to strikeout both third baseman Ashley Dowdy and catcher Amber Tramp looking to leave the Rebel duo stranded.
With one down in the bottom of the first, Mogan bounced a ball to deep short that traveled under the shortstop’s glove for a base hit. Callahan joined the runner on the base paths via a walk issued by Willitt. Following a fielder’s choice that cut down Callahan at short for the second out, senior catcher Shannon Doepking lifted a promising pop-up to short left center. Ole Miss’ Grill drifted back and squeezed the ball, retiring the side with no scoreboard damage.
In the top of the second, Rebel designated player Michelle May singled placing the lead-off batter on base for the second consecutive inning. Right fielder Melissa McGovern was retired swinging for the initial out, but first baseman Lauren Rowe drove a sharp bouncer directly over the top of the third base bag and down the line placing two aboard. Left fielder Alise Doubt became Rhodes’ fourth strikeout victim, recording a big second retirement. Ghinaudo worked the count to 3-2 before popping up to Callahan just to the side of the circle for out number three.
After Tennessee was retired in order in the bottom of the second, Grill drove the first one-out pitch she received from Rhodes in the top of the third to deep center for a homer and a 1-0 Ole Miss lead. Dowdy bounced back to the circle for a single as UT’s defense was late covering the first base bag and Rhodes had nowhere to throw. With the runner occupying first, Tramp popped up a 3-2 pitch to Webb in center, and May looked at strike three to keep the UM lead at just one score.
A hit batter to lead off the frame and one-out singles off the bat of Doubt and Ghinaudo loaded the bases with just one retired in the top of the fourth. That brought an end to the day in the circle for Rhodes as co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly made a move to the bullpen, summoning in Ward in relief. The Asheville, N.C., native responded to the crucial situation by inducing a bouncer to short that Posey corralled before throwing out McGovern at the plate for a huge second out. That brought the dangerous Grill and her 10 home runs to the dish in the big spot. Ward got ahead of her 1-2 before Grill grounded down to third. Callahan nabbed the sphere and stepped on the third base bag, leaving all three runners stranded.
Callahan christened Tennessee’s half of the fourth with a clean single through the right side of the infield. Doepking came through with a perfect sacrifice bunt to third as freshman pinch runner Natalee Weissinger advanced 60 feet into scoring position. Unfortunately for the Big Orange, Huff popped up on the infield and Lapicki laced a high chopper to first that Rowe handled herself as UT remained scoreless.
A string of eight straight batters retired by Willitt was broken by the Lady Vols in the bottom of the sixth as Callahan drew a two-out free pass. She was left stranded right there, however, as Doepking grounded out routinely to short sending the teams to the last inning with Ole Miss maintaining its 1-0 advantage.
Down to their last chance and with one out in the bottom of the seventh, Lapicki attempted to grant UT some offensive life. The Oldwick, N.J., native laced a double over the glove of leaping second baseman Lisa Conchos and to the wall in right center. Lapicki grounded out to first, and Grieve popped up to shallow left to end the contest.
No. 9 Tennessee will continue its doubleheader against Ole Miss at approximately 5:20 p.m. Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com.