SOFTBALL: Lady Vols Dominate Gators In SEC Tourney

It's tough enough having to face Tennessee ace Monica Abbott, but give the tall lefty a three-run cushion and she's next to impossible to beat. The Southeastern Conference's Co-Pitcher of the Year got all the cushion she needed in the bottom of the first inning Thursday evening and that was all she needed as she turned in a dominating performance to shut out the twenty-third ranked Florida Gators, 4-0, in the opening round of the SEC Softball Tournament at the UF softball stadium.

Abbott struck out seven and scattered three hits to earn her 40th win of the season against just seven losses. It was her 25th shutout of the season for the 6-3 lefty and with the seven strikeouts she topped the 500-strikeout mark for the second consecutive year. She has now allowed a run in 45.1 innings.

For the eleventh-ranked Lady Vols, now 57-11, it was their fifth consecutive shutout, fifth most in NCAA history and just five away from the record of 47 which was set by UCLA in 1997. It has been 41.1 innings since any team scored on Tennessee.

With the win, Tennessee advances to the winner's bracket semi-finals against top seeded Georgia (49-12), a 2-1 winner over LSU. Florida plays eighth seeded LSU (30-22) in an elimination game at 1:30 Friday. The Gators (41-20) are likely to start Mandy Schuerman.

An infield hit, two errors, a walk and a hit batsman were turned into the only three runs the Lady Vols would need in the bottom of the first inning.

"When we got on them early that probably took their crowd out of it just a little bit," said Tennessee Co-Head Coach Karen Weekly.

Florida got leadoff hitter Lauren Roussell on base with an infield single in the first inning but Abbott bore down to get a force at second, a strikeout and a pop out to end the inning. Abbott would give up a single to right by Lacy Howard in the third and wouldn't give up another hit until the seventh when Kristen Butler singled up the middle.

After the Howard single, Abbott retired 14 straight Florida hitters. She had total command of the strike zone, too. In the third inning she needed only seven pitches to get three outs. In the fourth she needed only six pitches and in the sixth she required only seven pitches again.

"She's very good," said Florida Coach Karen Johns. "She painted that inside corner. She was jamming us pretty good. If she can that as consistent as she did she's probably going to win a lot of games."

It wasn't until the seventh inning that Abbott allowed the count to go full on a Florida batter. She went full count twice in a row but got both hitters out before Butler's single broke her string of consecutive outs. For the game, Abbott needed just 93 pitches.

"She had a great defense behind her and she threw the ball where she wants to," said Florida's designated hitter Mandy Schuerman.

Getting that first win of the tournament was a huge lift for the fourth-seeded Lady Vols, said Weekly.

"I think it's huge," said Weekly. "This is the toughest tournament we'll play all year unless we make the World Series. To get a win to start things off, I'm really happy with that. I'm proud of the way our kids came in here today. They came in with an attitude that they expected to play well and they were going to fight for seven innings."

Except for the difficulty in the field in the first inning, the Gators were solid behind Stacey Stevens, who took the loss and fell to 24-12 for the season. In the second inning, Stevens allowed three consecutive singles but the Lady Vols came up empty because they challenged the arm of All-SEC left fielder Lindsey Cameron on consecutive plays.

Cameron threw out Sarah Fekete at third after a single by Kristi Durant and then she nailed Durant at the plate when Tonya Calihan followed with a single down the left field line.

"We've got a great defense," said Stevens. "Except for that first inning the defense really picked me up. We made so many good plays except for that first inning."

Stevens gave up seven hits but only one of the four runs by the Lady Vols was earned.

In other games in the SEC Tournament, third-seeded Auburn (48-14) shut out sixth-seeded South Carolina (28-27-1), 8-0, and second-seeded Alabama (54-11) blanked seventh-seeded Mississippi State (32-28), 5-0.

Auburn faces Alabama Friday while South Carolina and Mississippi State play in an elimination game.

Fightin Gators Top Stories