Sophomore Lauren Gibson
May 22, 2011
By Brian Rice -- For UTLadyVols.com
Things didn't go quite according to plan for Tennessee at Lee Stadium on Saturday.
The ideal itinerary for the day had the Lady Vols at home relaxing Saturday night, preparing for a Knoxville Regional Championship matchup on Sunday. Instead, the team was busy rallying around themselves, trying to earn that berth in Sunday's final, thanks to their first loss of the postseason at the hands of Oklahoma State in Saturday's opener.
At about the time the team would have been finishing a relaxing dinner, they were out on the field facing Atlantic Coast Conference Champion Georgia Tech with the possibility of elimination just seven innings away.
"We were very motivated," Gibson said.
There will be a great deal of work that UT will have to do over the summer to repair damage from the massive hail storm a few weeks ago. Thanks to Gibson, there are a couple of other dents that will have to be repaired.
With the Lady Vols holding a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, Gibson turned on a 0-2 pitch, flinging the softball into the night down the right field line, the next surface the ball contacted was the roof of a portable toilet in the parking lot beyond the right field wall. The ball survived, the roof did not, showing a visible crack. The shot also scattered a group of Liberty fans, meeting with their team after the Flames' loss to Georgia Tech in the day's second game.
Gibson did not refer to the shot in the same epic proportions that others did.
"With two strikes, I'm looking for anything close, just trying to foul it off," she said. "It was kind of my pitch, and I just happened to hit it the right way." Just like that, 4-0.
Next time up in inning number three, Gibson did a little more damage that Facilities Services will have to repair after the season. The hail storm left some small dents in the scoreboard in left center field, Gibson left a softball-sized crater in it. The two-run homer gave Tennessee a 6-0 lead.
After an RBI single in the fourth inning, the Lady Vols led by a 7-0 margin that would never shrink. If individual score was kept, by the way, the final would have been Gibson 6, Georgia Tech 0.
Tennessee Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly praised Gibson for the adjustments she made between games.
"She's just a student of the game," he said. "We talked to her about not trying to kill the ball, but getting her to meet the ball, just standup and drive it."
For her part, Renfroe's contribution was to keep the other team from scoring, something she has done well of late. In two games of the Knoxville Regional, she has barely allowed the other team to touch the ball. A one-out single in the fifth inning broke a 10-inning no-hit streak. Renfroe ended the day allowing two hits while striking out 10 and facing just three over the minimum. Her scoreless inning streak sits at 12 heading into Sunday.
As is typical for the sophomore, Renfroe deflected the credit, and put it on her offensive-minded teammates. Speaking in reference to a question about the first-inning Gibson homer, Renfroe said, "It was a big one, it's great when your team can come out and give you that kind of momentum in the circle."
The Lady Vols hope to ride that momentum into Sunday, where that plan will again have to be altered if UT hopes to advance to the Super Regional. Instead of needing a single win to move on, Tennessee will have to defeat Oklahoma State twice. Weekly said not to count the team out.
"As I said earlier today, we weren't done, and we're not done," he said. Turning talk to the Cowgirls, Weekly said, "They're very good, but I think we can play better tomorrow than we did today."
Looking across the bracket, with Texas' loss to Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday night, Tennessee is not just playing for a Super Regional, but playing to host one. Gibson said that fact wasn't weighing on the team's mind in the least.
"To be honest, we're just looking to win that first game. Without that one, nothing else matters."