Kentucky beats Vols on late surge
Wildcats score three with two outs in bottom of seventh
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Holding a 4-1 lead and just one strike from victory, No. 23 Kentucky (16-4, 2-1 SEC) rallied for three two-out runs in the bottom of the seventh and eventually defeated No. 7 Tennessee (20-4, 1-2 Southeastern Conference), 5-4 in a 10 innings to take the opening league series Sunday at the UK Softball Stadium.
Big Orange senior Kelly Grieve blasted her third home run of the year as part of a 2-for-4 effort while right fielder Kat Dotson (1-for-4) knocked in her 39th and 40th runs of the year via a single during Tennessee’s three-run first. Sophomore left fielder Raven Chavanne registered a pair of hits and swiped two of UT four total thefts, while sophomore second baseman Lauren Gibson went 1-for-3 at the plate with an RBI.
In the circle for the Lady Vols freshman starter Ellen Renfroe (11-2) took the difficult defeat, despite striking out a career-high 13 Wildcats in 7.1 total innings of work over two separate stints, allowing two runs on eight hits. Sophomore Ivy Renfroe permitted three tallies on five hits in her 2.1 frames of relief.
Chavanne got the Lady Vol offense off and running in the top of the first by lacing Kentucky hurler Rachel Riley’s first offering into the outfield for a single. Following a steal, Grieve managed an infield hit and stole a base herself, setting the stage for a two-RBI base knock from the clutch Dotson as Tennessee nabbed a quick 2-0 advantage. After two Lady Vols were retired, Gibson contributed a single that proved just enough to plate Dotson from second.
Ellen Renfroe came out firing. She required just three pitches to strikeout dangerous ‘Cat lead-off hitter Megan Yocke. After an infield single from shortstop Kara Dill, a strong throw by Lady Vol backstop Ashley Andrews cut down the runner on a steal attempt. Third baseman Brittany Cervantes ripped a shot back to the circle that Renfroe managed to snag and toss to first to conclude the opening frame.
UT’s six-foot hurler continued throwing well early on, striking out three batters during the bottom of the third to give her five through the opening trio of frames. Unfortunately, a wild pitch on a swinging K with two down allowed second baseman Emily Jolly the opportunity to reach first safely. Yocke stepped into the batter’s box and lifted a towering pop-up that was handled by Lady Vol freshman shortstop Madison Shipman for the third out.
A bloop base knock into short left center by Kentucky center fielder Meagan Aull with two retired in the bottom of the fourth broke a string of 10 consecutive batters technically retired by Ellen Renfroe. That didn’t really matter as Renfroe punched out designated player Lauren Cumbess on a 2-2 pitch for K number seven.
Tennessee’s offense missed a golden chance to add to its three-score lead during the top of the fifth and that would prove costly. Sophomore pinch hitter Whitney Hammond and Chavanne christened the frame with back-to-back walks, forcing a Wildcat pitching change as Chanda Bell was summoned in for relief. Following a Grieve sac bunt and a Dotson free pass to load the bases, Bell settled in to record consecutive strikeouts and left the bases full of Lady Vols.
Kentucky finally got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the sixth as Jolly led off the inning with a solo shot just inside the left-field fair pole to cut the UK deficit to 4-1. The ‘Cats threatened to add more as Yocke followed with a single back through the middle and eventually moved to third as a potential fielder’s choice was thrown away at second for an error. With a pair of runners in scoring position and no outs, Ivy Renfroe was brought in to relieve her sister. She immediately got Cervantes to pop-up to short for the initial out. Aull lifted a high fly to short center as Grieve raced in to make the grab near the infield dirt and forced the UK runners to hold their positions. Cumbess bounced a slow roller to third that Spigner managed to grab in a challenging play right over the top of the bag. She fired across the diamond to junior first baseman Shelby Burchell as UT escaped a big jam.
In what originally appeared to be just a two-out insurance run for the Big Orange, Grieve blasted the first pitch she saw from Bell over the wall to improve Tennessee’s advantage to 4-1. Little did anyone know how important that big fly would be after the end of regulation play.
O’Brien got things going for the ‘Cats in the bottom of the seventh by lacing a lead-off single to right. With one out first baseman Samantha DeMartine was hit by a pitch, putting two aboard. Jolly stepped in and ripped a base hit up the middle as pinch runner Ginny Carroll rounded third on her way to the plate. Grieve scooped the ball up in center and fired a strike to the dish to nail the runner and maintain UT’s three-score advantage. Unfortunately, with two retired and facing a 3-2 count, Yocke drove a pitch over the wall in left center for a three-run HR to dead-lock the scoreboard at 4-4.
The Lady Vols nearly went back in front in the top of the eighth as Shipman crushed a pitch that was caught at the top of the wall by Kentucky defensive replacement Erika Silence.
Singles from Aull and O’Brien in the bottom of the eighth forced Ivy out of the game in favor of the second stint by Ellen Renfroe. The change-of-pace proved vital as Ellen struck out Riley and DeMartine to leave two more ‘Cats stranded and give her 11 K’s for the game to break her previous high set during the 7-1 win over #2 UCLA.
The scoring chances continued to go in favor of Kentucky as a lead-off single by Jolly and a walk issued to Yocke gave the ‘Cats a pair of runners in the bottom of the ninth with none out. After a fielder’s choice, the decision was made to intentionally walk Cervantes to set up a force play at every base. Ellen Renfroe fell behind Aull 2-0 but battled back to induce a fly ball to left that was caught by junior Holly Baker. She fired quickly home to keep UK’s runner 60 feet from pay dirt. Silence had a golden chance to grant UK the win, but went down swinging against Ellen Renfroe to send the game on to the 10th.
Tennessee’s offense got some life starting the top of the 10th as Chavanne managed a lead-off single. With one down the speedster swiped second and was eventually joined on the base paths via a two-out walk by Shipman. Burchell had a chance to push UT in front but fouled out to third as the marathon continued.
The contest finally came to its conclusion in the bottom of the 10th. With one out Riley and DeMartine delivered back-to-back singles for the ‘Cats. Following a strikeout of Jolly, Yocke was intentionally walked to again load the bases and make available a force at every base. Unfortunately it didn’t matter as shortstop Kara Dill bounced a ball just off the edge of the glove of diving Lady Vol second baseman Lauren Gibson as pinch runner Ellen Weaver plated the game-winner.