Bell, Smith, Becker lead MSU in upset
Bell finishes with .500 batting average in three-game series
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Briana Bell and Ka'ili Smith had run-scoring base hits in a three-run second inning, and Stephanie Becker held No. 4 Tennessee scoreless over the final five innings to lead Mississippi State to a 3-2 upset of the Lady Vols in the series finale on Saturday.
Bell, who hit .500 in the three-game series, had the two-run double in the second before coming back with a single later in the game. Smith's RBI base hit in the decisive second was the highlight of her 2-for-4 afternoon.
In the last eight games, Smith is hitting .375 with a double and four RBIs.
In her third consecutive start this weekend, Becker scattered seven hits and allowed two runs over the first pair of innings in a complete-game effort. She tossed 16.1 innings in the three games.
The Bulldogs salvaged the final game of the series to improve to 23-26 overall and 9-13 in SEC play. The win snapped a 13-game Tennessee win streak and dropped the Lady Vols to 41-7 and 17-5 in the conference.
"It was great to bounce back with the win today, especially after being held without a hit yesterday. It was big for our ballclub to come out and get some runs on the scoreboard, and Stephanie Becker put in another great performance on the mound," Mississippi State head coach Jay Miller said.
"It was big for us to have Briana come through and drive in those first two runs. Ka'ili also did a great job hitting in that three-run inning. After being shutout twice, we needed to get on the board, and that was a big step for our ballclub. I wish we could have scored some more runs for Stephanie, but those three ended up being enough. At this point in the season, we'll take the win any way we can get it."
After failing to capitalize on Ali Bainbridge's 13th double of the season in the opening inning, the Bulldogs put the decisive three runs across in the second to rally from a 1-0 deficit.
Heidi Shape started the inning by beating out a ground ball to shortstop. Shelby Fisher and Bainbridge drew a pair of walks to load the bases, and Bell put the Dawgs in front with a double to left-center field.
Bainbridge, who made a stellar slide to get into third on Bell's hit, gave MSU the 3-1 lead as she scored on Smith's two-out base hit through the left side.
Bainbridge also drew two walks in the game to bring her season total to a personal-best 37. The Vestavia Hills, Ala., native, who stands four hits shy of 200 for her career, is now tied for sixth in single-season walks and seventh in career free passes with 69.
The three-run burst chased UT starter Ellen Renfroe. Renfroe suffered her first defeat in the circle since March 13. She allowed the three runs and four hits in two innings before giving way to her sister, Ivy, for the final five frames.
Tennessee cut the lead to 3-2 in the bottom of the second when Kat Dotson hit a one-out single and came around to score on a Kelly Grieve sacrifice fly. The Bulldogs avoided any further trouble, however, as Sam Lenahan took the throw at home and tossed out Chavanne trying to take third.
The Bulldogs earned a pair of walks in the top of the fourth off Ivy Renfroe, but they were unable to scratch across any insurance runs as a strikeout ended the inning.
Becker and the MSU defense preserved the 3-2 lead in the bottom of the fifth. Tennessee got a single from Chavanne and a walk to Gibson. The Bulldogs issued an intentional pass to Spigner, but Becker got Melissa Davin to fly out to right field to leave the bases loaded.
MSU missed an opportunity of its own in the top of the seventh. With one out, Bainbridge reached on an error by UT shortstop Melissa Brown. Bell followed with her second hit of the game, and Smith loaded the bases with a ground ball that made its way through the left side of the infield.
A pair of strikeouts by Ivy Renfroe, however, left the bases full.
Becker sealed the win with a solid seventh inning. She got Chavanne, who had been put out just once in the series, to fly out to right field to open the inning. Kelly Grieve also flew out to Bell in right, and after Gibson kept UT alive with a base hit, Becker fanned Shelby Burchell to notch the victory.
Saturday featured the third sellout crowd of the season (1,649) at the Lee Softball Stadium. Prior to the contest the Big Orange celebrated the “Senior Day” of center fielder Kelly Grieve, honoring the Asheville, N.C., native for her outstanding contributions to the Lady Vol program.
Ivy Renfroe improved her consecutive streak of no earned runs to 30.2.
Chavanne led the Tennessee offense, going 3-for-4 on the day with a run scored and her squad-high 28th stolen base of the season. Chavanne led the Lady Vols by hitting .800 (8-of-10) overall with a triple and four thefts. Third baseman Jessica Spigner posted a 1-for-2 effort with her 40th RBI of the year. Grieve knocked in a tally on her “Senior Day” via a second inning sacrifice fly.
“Today was all about Mississippi State,” Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “They wanted this game more than we did. They came out and threw some punches at us early, and we didn’t answer. I think since we’re so young, our 13-game win streak sort of went to our heads a little. I’m really very proud of our team, but when they are young like this, you have to learn the hard way sometimes.”
For the second consecutive day Tennessee quickly got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the first. An infield single from Chavanne, a stolen base and a fly ball to right by Grieve proved plenty to station the UT occupant at third with one retired. Second baseman Lauren Gibson walked and first baseman Shelby Burchell was struck by a pitch from Becker to load the bags. Spigner stepped to the plate and ripped an RBI single through the infield as Chavanne scored from 60 feet away to make it 1-0. A fielder’s choice cut down the lead runner at the plate and a strikeout left the bases juiced.