Tennessee is OKC-bound after trumping defending champ Alabama 5-3
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee and Alabama put on a quite a show in a nationally-televised matchup on Saturday as the Lady Vols rallied from a three-run deficit to punch their sixth ticket the Women's College World Series with a 5-3 triumph against the Crimson Tide in front of a sold-out crowd.
"First of all, I'm extremely happy and extremely proud to coach the Tennessee Lady Vols," Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "For the seniors, to go to the World Series three out of four years they were here is a fantastic achievement. I'm just really proud of our kids. It's all about them. Coaches, they don't play. They don't throw balls. They don't hit balls. They don't run. They just coach. These kids did all of it and all of the credit goes to them.
The Lady Vols (49-10) combined for three sacrifice flies in a gritty game where five different players stepped up with key RBI knocks. Melissa Brown went 3-for-4 with one RBI and one run scored. Tory Lewis went 2-for-2 with one walk and one run.
Ivy Renfroe (21-4) earned the win after striking out four in four frames and allowed three runs. Cheyanne Tarango, pitching in a game for the first time since April 20 at Ole Miss, tossed a scoreless fifth in relief. Ellen Renfroe rang up three strikeouts over two scoreless relief frames to earn the save.
Jackie Traina (19-8) tossed 5.1 innings with four runs allowed and one strikeout. Leslie Jury threw 1.2 relief frames with one earned run allowed.
The game didn't start out very cleanly as both teams combined for four errors. Alabama, which was the designated home team, jumped ahead, 2-0, in the bottom of the first. Kayla Braud had a leadoff single down the left field line and advanced to second on a throwing error from left field and then to third on a wild pitch in the next at-bat. Haylie McCleney reached on an infield single and stole second base, giving the Crimson Tide two runners in scoring position with no outs. Two batters later, Molly Fichtner knocked a two-run single and advanced on the throw to give Alabama the lead.
In the bottom of the second, Alabama struck again. With the bases loaded and one out, McCleney reached on a fielder's choice as Tory Lewis lost and dropped a fly ball in the sun, but got the force out at second base. Danae Hays scored on the play and Alabama's lead grew to 3-0.
Tennessee, which had left one runner one base in the first and one on base in the second, came to life in the top of the third. Lewis knocked a leadoff single down the left field line and Raven Chavanne reached on an sac bunt and fielding error at third. Lauren Gibson followed with a single to center to load the bases. Madison Shipman came up big with a sacrifice fly to center field that plated Lewis.
In the top of the fourth, Tennessee knotted the game at 3-3. Kat Dotson hit a leadoff single up the middle and Brown followed with a single to left. Rainey Gaffin stepped up with a sac fly to center field to bring UT to within 3-2. Hannah Akamine drew a walk on a full count and Jennifer Burroughs pinch ran. A passed ball put two Lady Vols in scoring position. Lewis drew a walk on a 3-1 pitch to load the bases. Chavanne followed with an RBI single to center field to even the game.
In the top of the fifth, the Lady Vols pulled ahead. Shipman hit a leadoff double to left field. Two batters later, Kat Dotson scored Shipman from third base with a sac fly to center field.
Tarango replaced Ivy Renfroe in the bottom of the fifth after Braud drew a leadoff walk. Tarango issued a five-pitch walk to McCleney, but with two runners on, the sophomore hurler was fantastic. Using a variety of pitches, Tarango induced a flyout to center, an infield fly to first and a lineup to short to escape unscathed.
Jury replaced Traina in the top of the sixth with one on and one out. Lewis used her speed to leg out a single back to the pitcher. Jury left two UT runners stranded with a strikeout and a lineout to short to end the inning.
Ellen Renfroe relieved Tarango to start the bottom of the sixth. Danielle Richard was hit by a pitch and advanced to second on a sac bunt, but Ellen Renfroe prevented the tying run from getting any closer with a strikeout and a flyout to center.
UT added one more run to give it a two-run advantage in the top of the seventh. With one out, Tarango drew a walk on eight pitches. Whitney Hammond pinch ran for Tarango and stole second base in her final game in Lee Stadium. Fellow senior Brown followed with an RBI double up the middle to plate Hammond and push Tennessee's lead to 5-3.