May 22, 2010

Courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - On a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon in NCAA Knoxville Regional action at the Lee Softball Stadium, No. 16/15 Tennessee (44-13) banged out 15 hits to race past Virginia (34-22), 11-2, and advance on to Sunday's championship contest at 1 p.m. ET.

Three different Lady Vols posted a pair of RBIs during the contest as freshman left fielder Raven Chavanne posted a 4-for-5 effort at the plate with a pair of runs scored and a stolen base, junior center fielder Kelly Grieve went 3-for-5 with a double and two thefts and sophomore third baseman Jessica Spigner recorded a 2-for-5 effort. Senior first baseman Erinn Webb also tripled, swiped a bag and scored twice, while senior catcher Tiffany Huff (1-for-4, run), freshman second baseman Lauren Gibson (1-for-3, two thefts), senior pinch hitter Nicole Kajitani and sophomore shortstop Ashley Andrews (1-for-3, double, run) each knocked in a tally.

In two separate stints from the circle, freshman hurler Ivy Renfroe fired 5.1 scoreless innings of four-hit ball in improving to 28-4 on the campaign. In a relief appearance sophomore right hander Cat Hosfield was charged with two runs on three hits with two walks and three K's over 1.2 frames.

"The first thing I told the Virginia coach (Eileen Schmidt) is that she's done a tremendous job in two years there at Virginia," Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "We played them a few years back, and they weren't the team then that they are now. They (Virginia) played a really good game, and it was very close until the fifth inning. We had that big inning, and I think that made the difference. My hat's off to them, and I'm also very proud of our kids for fighting back after that illegal pitch call cost us a couple of runs after we'd had the third out. I'm not criticizing the umpire, I'm just saying the illegal pitch call after the third out set it back up, and, of course, they had to earn it. They got some good hits. That kind of changed the whole tone of the game, and at that point it was 4-2. We really challenged our kids to step up, and they did. I'm really proud of them."

For the 28th time during the 2010 campaign, Chavanne reached to christen Tennessee's initial at-bat of the contest on a slap single into left field. A sacrifice bunt, a UT strikeout and then a stolen base had Chavanne standing on third base with two retired in the frame. Spigner made solid contact on a 2-2 pitch from Virginia starter Melanie Mitchell but drilled a liner right to UVA shortstop Clara Kendall to leave the runner stranded 60 feet from paydirt.

In the bottom half of the first, the Cavaliers received a lead-off single from second baseman Alex Skinkis, but she soon became the initial out of the frame after leaving the bag early on a steal attempt. After striking out first baseman Lauren McCaskey, Renfroe hit both designated player Nicole Koren and right fielder Sarah Tacke with pitches, putting a pair aboard with two retired. UVA center fielder Giannina Cipolloni lifted a fly ball to left, however, that Chavanne squeezed to end the initial inning with no scoring by either squad.

Huff got the Big Orange on the board with one down in the top of the second by blasting her seventh home run of the season, this one a solo shot, just over the wall down the right field line. Following a Lady Vol strikeout, Webb hammered a two-out triple to right center that just eluded the reach of Virginia's Tacke. Andrews stepped to the dish facing a big spot and drove a ball off the fence in left center for a clutch RBI double as Webb scored to make it 2-0 Tennessee.

Virginia got its offense untracked in the third with a lead-off single to second base from Skinkis. Koren was struck by a pitch with one down to put two Cavalier runners on and force a Tennessee move to the bullpen as Hosfield entered in relief. The Murfreesboro, Tenn., native immediately struck out Tacke looking on a beautiful 3-2 change-up for the second retirement of the frame. With UVA runners standing at first and second, Cipolloni bounced a slow roller through the right side of the infield for a single, as Skinkis rounded third and headed towards the plate. UT's Dotson raced in from her defensive position in right to corral the ball and fired a strike to Huff as the catcher easily applied the tag to keep the Cavs off the scoreboard.

A one-out single back through the middle by sophomore designated player Shelby Burchell got a Big Orange rally going in the fourth. Freshman pinch runner Leah Taylor quickly swiped second and was soon joined on the base paths by Webb via a free pass. A fly out to right off the bat of Andrews was deep enough to advance Taylor to third and then Webb swiped a bag to put a pair in scoring position for Chavanne. The Thousand Oaks, Calif., product delivered in the clutch with a bloop base knock to left, plating two more Lady Vols to make it 4-0.

Virginia clawed back into the contest during an interesting bottom of the fourth inning that saw a little bit of everything. After a walk, a stolen base, and an illegal pitch, that wasn't noticed by anyone until after an apparent frame-ending grounder and after Tennessee's squad had retired to its dugout, the Cavs boasted runners at the corners with two outs. An infield single to third by Skinkis knocked in one tally and then Hosfield uncorked a wild offering to plate another as UVA cut its deficit to 4-2.

The Big Orange added some big-time insurance with a five-run explosion during the top of the sixth, eventually forcing UVA's Mitchell from the circle after 140+ pitches. Andrews christened the inning by drawing a walk and then Chavanne and Dotson delivered almost identical infield singles just in front of third baseman Abby Snyder to load the bases. From there Grieve knocked in a run on a sharp base knock to center, Spigner followed with a single to left to plate two more and then Gibson ripped a shot back through the middle to score another and improve the UT advantage to 8-2. Kajitani came to the plate with the bases juiced and lifted a sacrifice fly to deep right to expand the gap to 9-2.

In the top of the seventh after a Chavanne lead-off single, Grieve doubled into left center for an RBI and then later scored on a wild pitch by Virginia reliever Stephanie Coates to finalize UT's offensive output at 11 runs.

Despite permitting a two-out walk during the bottom of the seventh, Renfroe retired Virginia quickly to secure the win and send Tennessee on to Sunday's winner's bracket match-up at 1 p.m. ET.