"This was all about Mississippi State," Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. "They wanted this game more than we did, and they came out and played harder. They threw some punches in the first couple of innings, and we didn't answer the bell.
"I think we got beat in all phases of the game, but I still think we're a very good team. Hopefully, this will make us better."
Senior outfielder Kelly Grieve said, "Everybody comes out motivated to try and beat us. Every team in the SEC is capable of beating the number one team in the SEC any given day. That's just what happened. The SEC is a tough conference.
"We've got to do the little things right, on the bases and having a tad bit better at-bats in a couple of situations because we've been getting away with a lot of stuff and today we didn't. It taught us a good lesson."
Tennessee started the game with a 1-0 lead after the first inning but squandered chances to add to it and then lost the lead for good when Mississippi State scored three runs in the top of the second. The Lady Vols answered with one run in the second inning, but that is where the score remained as both teams put up zeros the rest of the way.
The Lady Vols got seven hits to Mississippi State's six, and both teams left eight runners on base.
Ellen Renfroe, who was relieved by her sister, Ivy Renfroe, after two innings managed to get out of first inning trouble. After a double by Ali Bainbridge and a nine-pitch walk to Briana Bell, Renfroe fielded a one-hopper up the middle by Kaili Smith and got the lead runner at third.
Jessica Spigner recorded the second out after catching a pop-up in foul territory near third base to retire Courtney Nesbit, and Renfroe ended the inning with a strikeout of Sam Lenahan, which delighted the crowd of 1,649 as the freshman hurler worked out of a jam.
Lady Vol leadoff hitter Raven Chavanne slapped the ball on the ground to third and showed her speed down the line to beat the throw, stole second and then tagged up on Kelly Grieve's fly ball out to rightfield. Lauren Gibson walked, Shelby Burchell was hit on the left elbow, and Tennessee had the bases loaded with one out.
Jessica Spigner delivered with a grounder through the hole on the left side, and Chavanne scored, but the ball was scorched and got to the leftfielder in a hurry so Gibson had to hold at third.
Melissa Davin had another hard-hit ball – this one a grounder to the shortstop – and that allowed the runner at home to be forced. Melissa Brown struck out to end the inning, and Tennessee left the bases loaded.
"We had plenty of opportunities to win that game," Weekly said. "Every ball we hit was right at 'em so hard we couldn't score anybody else. I don't know if they got complacent, but I think the fact that we didn't score more in that first inning (affected the rest of the game).
"It takes a lot of things happening to beat us. All those things happened today."
Mississippi State opened the second inning with a single to short by Heidi Shape. Chelsea Raines grounded out to move Shape to second and then Shelby Fisher walked. Jessica Cooley flied out to rightfield for the second out, but then Bainbridge walked to load the bases.
Bell doubled to leftfield to bring home two runners, and then Smith singled to left to score a third run. Bell also tried to score on the play and was thrown out at home on a throw from Chavanne to Ashley Andrews.
Tennessee got another run in the second after Kat Dotson singled on a bunt and then scooted to third on a single to rightfield by Chavanne, who advanced to second on the throw to third. Grieve flied out to centerfield, and Dotson tagged up to score, but Chavanne tried to move up to third and was tagged out to end the inning, leaving Gibson, who entered the game leading the SEC in hitting in league games with a .451 average, on deck.
Ivy Renfroe came on in relief to start the third inning, held Mississippi State scoreless for five innings and recorded seven strikeouts, but the Tennessee bats didn't come through as the Lady Vols kept swinging at Stephanie Becker's high ball with little success.
Ellen Renfroe took the loss and is now 22-3 on the season. It was her first defeat in more than a month with the last loss coming against Kentucky on March 13.
"Obviously, I didn't start out too great," Renfroe said. "I had trouble finding the strike zone and kind of trying to find out where things were."
That could be a polite way of saying the strike zone was fluid. Weekly was rather peeved in one inning and shouted at the umpire that his pitcher was squeezed in the top of the inning. The Lady Vol hitters faced a bigger strike zone when up to bat in the bottom of the inning.
Renfroe ceded the circle in the third inning to her sister, Ivy.
"That's the great thing about having a great pitching staff," Ellen Renfroe said. "I can give up three runs and then have Ivy come in and shut them down. When they took me out, I felt no pressure, I was not nervous they would score more runs. I knew the whole time that she would come in and shut them down because she's had a very good series against Mississippi State.
"They really do have a great hitting team so it was definitely a challenge to keep them off the board the first two games. We knew it was going to happen sometime. I hate that it had to be done like that. You're going to get beat sometimes. It's still a game. You can't get your head down. Just come back out and be better next time."
Ellen Renfroe had carved out a name for herself of late, and Ivy Renfroe was able to reclaim some pitching turf in this series.
"What's really great about that is that Ellen has been the one that everybody has been turning to previously and (Friday) and today I think Ivy is starting to return to her World Series form," Weekly said. "I thought she did really well."
The sisters were headed to their hometown of Jackson, Tenn., after the game to celebrate Easter with family.
"(We're) headed to West Tennessee as soon as we get done here," Ellen Renfroe said. "We're going to church and hang out with the family."
She was looking forward to a day off before the final two weeks of the regular season.
"Just to be able to not even think about softball, get away from Knoxville for a little bit, recharge before our next series and with finals coming up," Renfroe said.
Chavanne had a successful day for the Lady Vols with a 3-4 performance from the plate, a run scored and her 28th stolen base of the season. The Thousand Oaks, Calif., sophomore hit .800 (8-10) in the three-game series with a triple and four swipes.
But Weekly had warned his team that not seizing chances to score when presented would catch up with a team in a series. He also preached patience at the plate when the situation merited the approach, and the Lady Vols swung early in counts, even with two balls.
"Absolutely," Weekly said. "We fought, but I've told our kids time and time again when you go up with the bases loaded, take a pitch. Don't swing at the first pitch. (Becker) was throwing us high all day, and we didn't adjust, and that's why there were so many (pop-ups).
"I think maybe since we're so young 13 wins in a row kind of went to our heads. I told them (Saturday) when we met after the game, ‘Great job, but I think we're getting a little too cocky.' "
The batters kept hacking at Becker's high ball and sent a lot backwards or up in the air and into the waiting gloves of fielders. Did it look that good coming in?
"I don't know; I wasn't up there swinging at it," Weekly said with a smile. "It didn't look good to me from where I was standing. But I'm really proud of them, and young teams have to learn that way."
The day began with a tribute to Grieve, whose Senior Day was moved up a week so that her extended family could all be present. In addition to her parents, Thomas and Rene Grieve, the senior from Asheville, N.C., had her twin sister, brother, sister-in-law, newborn nephew Ryker – who she held during the pre-game ceremony – and other family members in attendance.
"Everything," Weekly said when asked what Grieve meant to the program. "She's the unquestioned leader of this team. She's single-handedly won 10 to 12 games for us since she's been here and has been a heavy contributor in every other one. She's fantastic.
"She's going to be a veterinarian She's just a great person and couldn't ask for a better player."
Tennessee last series at home is next week against Arkansas April 29-May 1 with a makeup game at Austin Peay on April 26 – postponed earlier in the season because of inclement weather – the regular season finale at Florida May 6-8 and then postseason, so Saturday didn't feel like goodbye for Grieve.
"Oh, no, not at all," Grieve said.
Weekly also can tuck some teaching points into his pocket to present to the players when they return to practice Monday. A one-run loss as opposed to a 3-2 win is better for getting attention, too.
"Yes, it is, it definitely is, but there were a lot of coaching points in this game (anyway)," Weekly said. "We try to go from second to third with the centerfielder standing right behind us with our number three coming up, and we swung at high pitches all day. All of those kids have been performing well. It was just one of those days. There was no pressure. We just tried to pick them up.
"You can't go through this conference undefeated. You just can't do it. It's impossible. I don't know what else to say except that my hat's off to Mississippi State."
Weekly also sounded as if he were ready to put Saturday in the rear-view mirror and look ahead to closing out the regular season.
"I love my team, and this stuff just happens," Weekly said. "I told them Happy Easter and let them go."
Steve and Lorrie Gibson, the parents of sophomore infielder Lauren Gibson of Pasadena, Md., were in town for the series, a trip they make often on weekends. Steve Gibson talked about his daughter and the decision to come to Tennessee.
The family of senior Kelly Grieve of Asheville, N.C., were in attendance Saturday for Senior Day. Her parents Thomas and Rene Grieve talked about their daughter's career and future.
Thomas and Rene Grieve