May 2, 2009

Courtesy of Alabama

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – In a contest that took portions of two days to complete because of periods of heavy rain at the Lee Softball Stadium, No. 3 Alabama (44-8, 20-6 SEC) rallied from a 2-0 deficit after two innings to post a 5-2 victory over No. 15 Tennessee (37-14-1, 12-11-1 SEC) in the opener of a Saturday league doubleheader.


Freshman pitcher Cat Hosfield started the contest, allowing two earned runs on two hits with three walks and a trio of K’s in 3.1 innings.  Senior Danielle Pieroni picked up a hard-luck loss by allowing one unearned tally on zero hits over two-thirds of a frame to fall to 6-2 on the year.  Sophomore Ashton Ward worked three innings of relief, permitting two earned runs on four hits with three walks and a strikeout.  The Charlotte, N.C., native also doubled in her lone appearance at the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning.


The UT offense managed five hits in the match-up, also receiving base knocks from junior second baseman Nicole Kajitani (1-for-4), sophomore Kelly Grieve (1-for-3, run scored), junior catcher Tiffany Huff (1-for-2) and freshman third baseman Jessica Spigner (1-for-3).


Tennessee starter Hosfield christened the contest by striking out center fielder Brittany Rogers and handling a bouncer back to the circle from second baseman Lauren Parker for two quick retirements.  Designated player Charlotte Morgan managed a walk to grant ‘Bama a two-out base runner, but Hosfield responded by striking out right fielder Cassandra Reilly-Boccia to end the frame.


After Kajitani blasted the first pitch of the bottom of the first deep to left for an out, Grieve opened a scoring chance by slapping a perfect shot between third and short for a single.  With Huff at the plate, Grieve swiped her team-best 34th base of the season, reaching scoring position.  Huff joined her on the base paths via a walk, placing two aboard with still just one retired.  That’s when the UT speed threat and a big Alabama miscue opened the door for Tennessee to get on the board.  Grieve took off towards third but raced back to second as Crimson Tide catcher Ashley Holcombe fired behind her to second on a pick-off attempt.  Her throw sailed off the glove of leaping shortstop Kellie Eubanks and then ricocheted off Rogers in center before rolling all the way to the right center field wall.  That error allowed both Grieve and Huff to circle the diamond for a 2-0 lead.  A single to center from Spigner and a walk to junior right fielder Erinn Webb placed two more aboard against Dunne.  A fielder’s choice and a Lady Vol K finally ended the inning, but not before seven Tennessee hitters stepped to the plate in the opening frame.


Blessed with an early lead on the scoreboard, Hosfield continued her strong pitching effort through the second for UT, retiring third baseman Kelley Montalvo on a bouncer back to the circle, striking out first baseman Amanda Locke and inducing a routine grounder from Holcombe.  


With rain beginning to fall in the top of the third, Alabama’s Eubanks coerced a lead-off walk from Hosfield.  With that the umpiring crew pulled the teams off the field at 6:56 p.m. ET as the contest entered a weather delay.  The decision was made to suspend play with the game starting on Saturday with Tennessee leading 2-0 in the top of the third.


At approximately 2 p.m. ET on Saturday the game re-commenced with Alabama’s Eubanks on first base.  Left fielder Whitney Larsen bounced a two-strike pitch from Hosfield back through the middle to join her teammate on the bags.  Speedster Rogers dropped a bunt to third and nearly beat Spigner’s throw to first as the base path duo advanced into scoring position.  That set the stage for a sacrifice fly as Parker lifted a ball to senior Lillian Hammond in left, scoring Eubanks to cut UA’s deficit to 2-1.  With a ‘Bama runner standing at second, Hosfield battled Morgan over an 11-pitch at-bat before issuing a walk.  Reilly-Boccia bounced past a diving Lapicki at first, but Kajitani managed to corral the ball, throwing to first to end the frame with no further damage.


Huff opened the bottom of the third with a sharp single to center.  Spigner was called upon to drop a sacrifice bunt and she got the ball down successfully.  Unfortunately for the Big Orange, ‘Bama third baseman Montalvo grabbed the sphere, turned and started a 5-6-3 double play.  An infield pop-up to short from Webb was caught for the third out.


The Crimson Tide got even on the scoreboard with one out in the top of the fourth as Locke blasted a 3-2 pitch from Hosfield just over the wall in right center, tying the count at 2-2.  Pieroni was summoned into the contest in relief and promptly worked to a full count against Holcombe before striking her with a pitch.  Eubanks blooped a ball to the outfield that was caught for the second out, but a throw behind the runner at first got away for a two-base error as Holcombe advanced within 60 feet of paydirt.  That misguided toss ended up costing the Big Orange the lead as an illegal pitch from Pieroni allowed the runner to trot home for a 3-2 lead.  Larsen eventually looked at strike three to end the inning, but not before Alabama had grabbed its initial advantage.  


Ward was summoned into the match-up in the top of the fifth and started well, retiring the top of ‘Bama’s order, Rogers, Parker and Morgan, one-two-three.


Kajitani granted the Big Orange a two-out scoring opportunity by displaying extreme hustle in the bottom of the fifth.  First the San Bernardino, Calif., native beat out an infield single by sliding into first base.  She then took off for second, swiping her 10th base of the campaign.  Huff got a lot of bat on a Dunne offering, but just missed it, flying out to Larsen in left to leave Kajitani in scoring position.


A pair of two out singles from Locke and Holcombe in the top of the sixth added to ‘Bama’s advantage as UA picked up a big insurance run to lead, 4-2.  


Alabama starter Dunne settled in during Tennessee’s half of the sixth, retiring Spigner, Webb and Lapicki in order to get within three outs of a UA triumph.


In the top of the seventh the Crimson Tide added its fifth run as Morgan and Reilly-Boccia singled with two outs, and then consecutive walks issued by Ward to Montalvo and substitute right fielder Jennifer Fenton forced in a tally.  Ward rebounded to catch Holcombe looking at strike three to send the squads to the final half of the seventh with Alabama leading 5-2.


Ward got things off to a rousing start in the final frame by leading off the inning with a long double down the left field line into the corner.  Unfortunately Dunne rebounded to strikeout the side, completing the Alabama triumph.      


No. 15 Tennessee concludes its doubleheader against No. 3 Alabama on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET.  The Sports Animal (990 AM, 99.1 FM, 99.3 FM) is on site to broadcast the final contest.  Live stats are also available through