May 28, 2010

By Jeff Arnold
Special to NCAA.com

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Less than 24 hours before, Ivy Renfroe was intent on closing out a no-hitter, giving Tennessee an upset win over No. 2 Michigan.

On Friday, the Volunteers' freshman ace was again on the mound, trying to close out the Wolverines and thrust herself and her 15th-seeded teammates into a College World Series berth. Turns out, Renfroe is as effective in relief as she is as a starter.

Renfroe pitched out of a seventh-inning bases-loaded jam, preserving a 4-3 upset victory over a stunned record crowd of 2,479 at Alumni Field.

With Michigan needing only a base hit to erase what had been a 4-0 Tennessee lead, Renfroe got Roya St. Clair to line out, closing out the best-of-three Super Regional in two games.

With the win, Tennessee (47-13) advances to Oklahoma City for the first time since 2007.

"I still can't believe we're going to the World Series," said Renfroe, who faced 22 hitters in a 2-hit masterpiece in Game 1 of the series before picking up her sixth save of the season Friday. "It was just a thrill when (shortstop Ashley Andrews) caught the ball and it's out and the game's over. It was awesome."

After being virtually untouchable in her start Thursday night, Renfroe gave up a pair of hits in the Michigan seventh when the Wolverines (49-8) loaded the bases with one out.

Michigan, which entered the Super Regional averaging more than seven runs a game, hadn't scored until the fifth inning when Angela Findlay cut Tennessee's 4-0 lead in half with a 2-run homer. Dorian Shaw followed up in the sixth with a solo home run, suddenly giving the heavily-favored Wolverines new life.

Now in the seventh, the bases were loaded and Renfroe realized if she didn't come through, the Volunteers could be pushed to a third and deciding game Friday night.

"I just had to give it all for my team - that's all I can do," Renfroe said.

Renfroe, who had struck out the first two hitters she faced in the sixth after Cat Hosfield was solid in her 4 1/3 innings of work, zeroed in on the task at hand. She struck out Big Ten Co-Player of the Year Maggie Viefhaus before getting St. Clair to line out to end the series with Michigan's top hitter in Shaw on deck.

"People were saying when we came up here that we were a Cinderella team," Tennessee coach Ralph Weekly said. "I told our kids today that if we're a Cinderella team, let's put on that slipper and let's go to the dance."

Tennessee, which used three home runs to build its 4-0 lead - including two by senior Erinn Webb, beat Michigan at its own game. Hosfield and Renfroe limited the Wolverines to only three runs over two days, keeping Michigan's powerful line-up off-balance all day.

Even after the Wolverines finally began hitting in the fifth inning Friday, the combination of Tennessee's pitching and flawless defense protected the lead the Volunteers built over the first four innings.

"Tennessee came into our house and really took it to us," Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said. "I thought we really battled. Unfortunately, it wasn't soon enough and it wasn't quite enough.

"We challenged them in the fourth (inning) and they started rallying back and I was very proud of their effort, because the dynamics of being behind in a game like this are more than anyone could know who doesn't play this game."

Despite Michigan's late charge, it was a Tennessee team with only three seniors that finished off the challenge few gave them a chance of overcoming. After tackling the latest test of what had been a grueling run to advance to the College World Series, the Volunteers appear ready to continue their magical run in Oklahoma City.

"We're a 15-seed so there's a lot of teams ranked a lot higher," Weekly said. "I think our motivation will be just to go in there and play hard. We're certainly not going to go in there with a chip on our shoulder, because the other seven teams are going to be pretty darn good themselves."