Tennessee rallies for SEC title
Spigner registers third two-home run game of career in win
OXFORD, Miss. – Trailing 4-0 in the opening inning of the Southeastern Conference Championship title game on Saturday night, No. 7 Tennessee utilized three home runs, including a walk-off solo homer by junior Shelby Burchell, and stellar relief pitching to post a thrilling 6-5 (8 inn.) comeback win against No. 8 Georgia and secure the program’s second SEC Tournament crown (first since 2006).
Junior designated player Jessica Spigner registered the third two-home run game of her career, blasting a pair of vital two-run shots as part of her 2 for 3, four-RBI effort against the Bulldogs. Burchell was 2 for 4, with a pair of runs scored and her walk-off solo homer on a 0-1 pitch from Georgia’s Alison Owen leading off the bottom of the eighth. Sophomore third baseman Raven Chavanne was 1 for 4 and scored a crucial tally on a passed ball during the fifth as Tennessee clawed within a single run at 4-3.
In a relief role in the circle, freshman pitcher Ellen Renfroe permitted just a single run on five hits with a walk and five strikeouts over 7.1 innings of work to get the victory and improve to 26-5 overall.
For their outstanding efforts during UT’s unbeaten run, Burchell, Chavanne and Spigner were each selected to the SEC All-Tournament Team, while Ellen Renfroe was tabbed as the event’s Most Valuable Player.
Things got off to a rough start against power-hitting Georgia (47-12) in the top of the first as center fielder Taylor Schlopy granted the Bulldogs a quick 1-0 lead with a solo shot to deep center. A walk issued to third baseman Alisa Goler and right fielder Brianna Hesson getting struck by an Ivy Renfroe offering came back to haunt with two retired as first baseman Kristyn Sandberg hammered a three-run homer to left and suddenly UGA had a 4-0 advantage.
After a single through the left side from designated player Brittney Hubbard, Ellen Renfroe was summoned into the contest in relief of her older sister. The Jackson, Tenn., native brought order to the proceedings by striking out shortstop Laura Trout to bring an end to the frame.
Chavanne christened the bottom of the third with a lead-off base knock back through the middle before being retired via a fielder’s choice off the bat of Dotson. With a runner at first, Tennessee (47-10) got unlucky as Grieve ripped a shot right to first as Sandberg made the catch, turned and stepped on the bag for an inning-ending double play.
With Ellen Renfroe keeping the Georgia offense from adding to its advantage, the Lady Vols used a little long ball of their own to cut into the deficit. Burchell reached on an error at short with one down, setting the stage for Spigner’s team-leading 15th home run of the season. The Santa Clarita, Calif., native’s two-run blast to left center cut the Georgia advantage to 4-2.
The UGA lead was trimmed to just a single tally in the bottom of the fifth with a little help from Montemayor and her battery-mate behind the plate catcher Ashley Razey. With Chavanne at second base and two outs, a wild pitch advanced the UT speedster to third. Razey then couldn’t handle a high offering from Montemayor, allowing Chavanne to easily race across from 60 feet away to make it 4-3.
Georgia responded immediately to get back the run back in the top of the sixth to nab a 5-3 advantage. A one-out two-bagger that got over Grieve in center and a groundout posted a UGA runner at third with two down. Trout bounced a ball just to the right of the circle that landed in the perfect spot, and she hustled down the line to barely beat a toss to first by Gibson as pinch runner Maya Branch crossed with the Dawgs’ fifth tally.
With time beginning to run short in regulation, Burchell got the crucial rally started by driving a 1-0 offering to center for a lead-off single. With sophomore Whitney Hammond on the base paths to run, her speed wasn’t needed as Spigner crushed a drive to deep center to bring Tennessee even for the first time all night.
A quiet seventh inning meant the two squads would require extra softball to settle the SEC Championship.
Ellen Renfroe permitted a one-out base knock to short left by Razey in the top of the eighth, but refused to allow the Bulldogs to mount a scoring threat, getting Sandberg to pop-up to short before striking out designated player Brittney Hubbard.
With a second chance to get a walk-off victory, the Lady Vols wouldn’t disappoint as Burchell crushed a 1-0 pitch from UGA reliever Owen to deep center to set off Big Orange jubilation in Oxford.