Ralph Weekly feted for 1,000

The pre-game belonged to Ralph Weekly to celebrate a storied career that has reached 1,000 wins and counting and then the future was on display in a stellar performance by two freshmen – a shutout by Ellen Renfroe and a two-run homer by Melissa Davin – in a 2-0 Tennessee win Thursday evening over Mississippi State.

Ralph Weekly tallied win No. 1,000 on April 10 on the road against Ole Miss and Thursday was the first home game against an SEC opponent in which to honor the feat.

His counterpart for Mississippi State, Jay Miller, also reached the four-digit milestone this month in a win over Auburn on April 8.

Weekly was honored in a pre-game ceremony in the pitcher's circle during which he was presented by Athletics Director Joan Cronan and stadium namesake Sherri Parker Lee with a framed print that highlighted his career and the 1,000-game ball in a display case. The coaches' boxes on the first and third base sides also had "Weekly 1000" stenciled at the ends.

After the ceremony Weekly walked to the dugout to shake the hand of Miller, who also was saluted by the crowd of 1,039 for his 1,000th win.

Thursday's win was No. 1,006 for Weekly – and No. 728 for his spouse and co-head coach Karen Weekly – and it featured the handiwork of Ellen Renfroe in the circle, the bat work of Melissa Davin at the plate and the glove work of sophomore Raven Chavanne in leftfield.

The nine-batter starting lineup plus pitcher deployed Thursday featured three freshmen, three sophomores, three juniors and the team's lone senior in Kelly Grieve.

It's a young team that reached a season-high 12-game win streak Thursday with two more to play against Mississippi State (22-25, 8-12) on Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (noon) with Friday's game set to air on SportSouth. The Lady Vols tallied the 40th overall win of the season to six losses and are 16-4 in SEC play.

"We're a very talented team," Davin said. "We've been through some obstacles thrown at us and so we rely on each other. Some people have their ups and downs one day, but our team is stacked full of talent so we can rely on others to help pick us up when it's needed."

The game was a shutout on both sides through four-and-a-half innings until Davin's shot over the rightfield wall after she showed bunt on the first pitch and sent the second one out of the park to bring home freshman Madison Shipman, who led off the bottom of the fifth inning with a solid single up the middle.

"They had a real low-ball calling umpire," Ralph Weekly said. "He called the ball really low. He called it consistent. He called it for both teams. They are a low-ball throwing team, and it took us three innings to get our kids to move up in the box even though we told them early to move up.

"What I told them when we finally started hitting was, ‘Move up in the box if they're dropping them low on you, and get off the plate if they're throwing you inside.

"The other thing is there are very good coaches over there. I don't care what the team record is. Those guys have been in the business a long time and like their coach said they had six TV games to study us. They (the Lady Bulldog staff) called a great game."

The Lady Vols scattered nine hits and left five on base before finally breaking through in the fifth inning.

"The thing that really bothered me tonight about us is we ran the bases very poorly, and that has not been a history with us," Weekly said. "We had a runner caught off on a soft line drive. We had a runner leave first early.

"It just all contributed to not a very good night for us, but it still shows that this team has character, and they're going to find a way to win no matter what's happening."

It was Davin's third homer of the season and her first game winner. It was witnessed by her parents, Michael and Shari Davin, who made the trip from Fresno, Calif., and were watching their first Lady Vol softball game at Lee Stadium.

Davin made sure the cross-country trip was worthwhile with a 2-2 performance at the plate that included a single through the right side of the infield in the second that brought cheers from her parents.

The homer sent her father out of his front row seat behind third base and down to the railing – after high-fiving a fan behind him – as he watched his daughter get mobbed by her teammates at home plate.

"I called a bunt, and I was afraid she was going to get on top of it," Weekly said. "So she just turned around and hit. Most of her hits are to rightfield. She's good at hitting behind the runner, so I gave her that shot there."

As the game progressed it seemed like the first team to score would ultimately hold on and win, and Tennessee followed that softball script.

"I wanted to do whatever I could to contribute to help the team win, whether it be a walk, a base hit, just do whatever I can to make something happen," said Davin, who had a game-tying hit this season against South Carolina in the bottom of the seventh inning to start a comeback win. "I felt it. As soon as I swung it hit the good part of the bat.

"I just wanted to do whatever I could to contribute to the team and to know that I can come up and do it in a game-winning situation and help my team out is tremendous. I was just looking for the best pitch I could hit and it happened to be a really good pitch, and I took it. It was outside, middle. I just remember it was good."

Renfroe smiled about her fellow freshman's shot over the wall that wasn't in doubt as soon as the ball left the bat.

"Really happy," Renfroe said of watching the ball leave the stadium. "Our offense kept putting pressure on Mississippi State's defense, so I knew it was coming. It was just a matter of getting that big hit. Davin came through for us."

While Davin got Tennessee on the scoreboard, Renfroe took care of matters in the circle with a 107-pitch performance that included nine strikeouts and no walks.

"We really tried to attack their weaknesses as we do with every team," Renfroe said. "They seemed to be going for their drop ball, kind of an off-speed drop ball. They have some really great hitters. They really attack the pitches that I missed my spot on, and they hit some balls pretty hard.

"They were definitely not easy to throw to. They kept it difficult. That's for sure."

Renfroe also helped herself in the third inning by spearing a hard-hit one-hopper up the middle and firing home to bring Chelsea Raines to a screeching halt in the base path when Mississippi State had its best chance to score.

Raines singled to leftfield to start the inning, moved to second on a single to right by Brittany Gates, and both runners moved up a base on a sacrifice bunt by Briana Bell.

Senior Ali Bainbridge, who has had considerable success against the Lady Vols at the plate during her career, sent a scorcher up the middle that Renfroe fielded on a hop and fired to catcher Ashley Andrews, who started the run-down, ending it with a toss to third and a tag-out by Jessica Spigner. Jessica Cooley flied out to rightfielder Kat Dotson to end the Lady Bulldogs' threat.

Karen Weekly was the first one to greet Renfroe with a high-five as the pitcher left the field.

Renfroe got defensive help in the sixth inning after Bell singled up the middle – Mississippi State's third hit of the game – and advanced to second on a wild pitch after a popup by Bainbridge and strike out by Cooley.

Kaili Smith sent a line drive to leftfield that Chavanne leaped for and snagged near the wall for the third out of the inning.

"Oh, my word," Renfroe said of the catch. "I could see it coming. Even when she first hit it, I said, ‘Raven's got it. No big deal.' She came up with the big play. It was pretty sweet. That was really momentum for the team that inning."

Tennessee got two hits in the bottom of the sixth inning but couldn't punch home a run. Renfroe allowed a single up the middle by Courtney Nesbit in the top of the seventh – the fourth and final hit of the game for Mississippi State – and pinch runner Jessica Offutt advanced to second on a wild pitch.

But Renfroe secured her 22nd win of the season to just two losses by inducing two groundouts with a strikeout in between to end the game.

"I just told them in there that they played hard, and they found a way to win," Ralph Weekly said. "There was a lot of stuff going on tonight, and I appreciate everything, and I am glad we're starting on a new chapter."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Ralph Weekly

Melissa Davin


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