KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – No. 13 Tennessee (48-14) picked up its 10th consecutive NCAA Regional victory dating back to 2005 by utilizing the strong right arm of senior pitcher Megan Rhodes and a clutch two-run home run off the bat of senior catcher Shannon Doepking in posting a 3-0 triumph over Winthrop (36-18) in Knoxville Regional action on a chilly Friday evening at the Lee Softball Stadium.
UT will now face No. 16 Virginia Tech (45-15) at noon ET on Saturday in a contest slated to broadcast live on ESPN2 with Pam Ward and Cindy Bristow on the call. For the Big Orange the television appearance will be the 42nd overall since traveling out for the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla., in 2005.
Entering in relief of freshman starter Ashton Ward (2.1 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 3 K’s) during the third frame, Rhodes was outstanding by firing 4.2 innings of no-hit ball with 10 strikeouts to pick up her 21st win of the season.
”I thought this was a really good game, and the type of game that you expect to see at this time of the season,” Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “I also thought that Winthrop played really well. We had some opportunities to score early but just hit a lot of ‘at-em’ balls, but again, it was just a very close ballgame. I don’t know any other way to sum it up other than both teams played well. I thought (Megan Rhodes’ performance) was wonderful to see, and it makes us feel better as a staff and as a team. I told Megan that she exorcised some demons today. She really came up big in a number of situations. Megan is a great pitcher. There are no ifs, ands or buts about that. She just needs to know how great of a pitcher she is. I think that makes all the difference in the world.”
Doepking’s big fly as part of the crucial three-run sixth for the Lady Vols marked her fourth of the campaign while her two RBIs improved her season total to 46. Sophomore center fielder Erinn Webb doubled and delivered a pair of hits in three at-bats in the match-up. Junior left fielder Danielle Pieroni was also credited with a RBI, while senior third baseman Tonya Callahan (1-for-1, two intentional walks) and freshman first baseman Jen Lapicki (1-for-3, run scored) each delivered a base knock.
After a pair of quiet innings for both teams, Winthrop registered the first serious scoring threat in the top of the third. A lead-off base knock off the bat of second baseman Sarah Magee and a wild pitch from Tennessee’s Ward advanced the runner into scoring position with none retired. Following a strikeout of Eagle third baseman Pearl Coleshill, another wild pitch and a walk issued to center fielder Tessa Thomas placed runners at the corners. That brought an end to the day in the circle for Ward as co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly summoned Rhodes into the match-up in relief. The move paid immediate dividends as the senior hurler caught right fielder Lisa Kingsmore looking at strike three on a perfect change-up, and then forced Winthrop’s Stephanie Reid to bounce down to Callahan at third to conclude the inning with no damage on the scoreboard.
Pieroni christened the bottom of the third with a walk against Winthrop pitcher Cari Wooldridge. The Madison, Tenn., native advanced into scoring position on a groundout to third off the bat of senior shortstop Kenora Posey. Unfortunately the runner was left occupying that base as junior designated player Lillian Hammond also bounced down to third, recording out number three.
Rhodes stepped up her effort from the circle in the fourth by striking out WU first baseman Mallory Hogan, designated player Jo-Lynn Smith and left fielder Lenny Stoddart in order.
Callahan christened Tennessee’s half of the fourth by driving a shot to deep right field that hit approximately a foot from clearing the wall for what would have been a lead-off homer. Kingsmore played the ricochet off the padding perfectly and fired a strike to nail the Lady Vol runner at second. That play proved to be vital for the Eagles as Doepking followed with a walk, and with two retired, Lapicki laced a single through the right side of the infield placing runners at first and second. The shot from the Oldwick, N.J., native potentially could have plated the contest’s first tally if not for the perfect Winthrop outfield assist. An infield pop-up off the bat of Webb concluded the inning.
The dominance from the circle continued for Rhodes through the fifth as the Nashville, Tenn., native again struck out the side, improving her total to seven K’s through eight batters faced since entering the contest in relief during the third.
Another defensive gem, this time from Winthrop third baseman Pearl Coleshill on a two-out rocket off the bat of Hammond in the fifth, left Tennessee freshman pinch runner Natalee Weissinger standing just 60 feet from granting UT a lead.
With two outs in the top of the sixth, Reid managed a free pass off Rhodes and achieved scoring position via a stolen base. The decision was made to intentionally walk clean-up batter Hogan despite being ahead with a 1-2 count, placing a pair aboard. Smith also coerced a walk to load the bases, but Rhodes responded by catching Stoddart looking at strike three on the inside corner to leave the bases juiced for Winthrop.
Callahan was walked intentionally beginning the crucial scoring attack in the bottom of the sixth and was removed on the base paths in favor of speedy freshman Kelly Grieve. The Asheville, N.C., native stole second extending her Tennessee rookie single-season record for thefts in a season to 18. Doepking stepped into the batter’s box and blasted a two-run shot over the wall in left center, granting the Big Orange a clutch 2-0 advantage. A walk issued to Huff, a double to right field from Webb and a dropped throw at first plated another UT tally as the inning eventually ended with the Lady Vols ahead by three scores.
That proved to be plenty for an in-command Rhodes as she set down the Winthrop line-up in order in the top of the seventh to secure Tennessee’s 10th consecutive NCAA Regional triumph dating back to 2005.
The Orange and White will be featured live on ESPN2 at noon ET on Saturday from the Lee Softball Stadium against No. 16 Virginia Tech with the winner advancing to Sunday’s regional championship contest at 1:30 p.m. ET Winthrop and Louisville will battle at 2:30 p.m. ET in Saturday’s first elimination game.
|Knoxville Regional Schedule|
|Friday, May 16|
|2:30 p.m. ET||Louisville vs. Virginia Tech (Game One)||Virginia Tech, 1-0 (10 inn.)|
|5 p.m. ET||Tennessee vs. Winthrop (Game Two)||Tennessee, 3-0|
|Saturday, May 17|
|Noon ET (ESPN2)||Virginia Tech (A) vs. Tennessee (H) (Game Three)|
|2:30 p.m. ET||Winthrop (A) vs. Louisville (H) (Game Four)|
|5 p.m. ET||Loser Game Three/Winner Game Four (Game Five)|
|Sunday, May 18|
|1:30 p.m. ET||Winner Game Three/Winner Game Five (Game Six)|
|4 p.m. ET||(if necessary) Rematch of Game Six|