Lady Vols swarm Arkansas in opener

After nearly a week between games because of a cancellation due to inclement weather – and then weathering their own storms one day later – the Lady Vol softball team shook off a slow start and then pounded Arkansas, 11-1, after Jessica Spigner ended the contest with a rainbow shot over the leftfield wall in the series opener Friday evening.

Tennessee (42-7, 18-5) had been scheduled to play on the road at Austin Peay on Tuesday but that game, which had been postponed once this season because of bad weather, was cancelled for good after the second attempt was also aborted because of storms.

The Lady Vols then hunkered down the next day as violent storms and tornadoes strafed the state Wednesday with several players reporting damaged vehicles, as did Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly, whose wife's car was safely tucked in the garage, while his vehicle was pounded with hail.

On Friday there were only wisps of white clouds scattered across blue skies at first pitch at 6:02 p.m., and the crowd of 1,264 was treated to a run-rule contest over Arkansas (13-36, 3-21) after Jessica Spigner took one strike and then sent the next pitch out of Sherri Parker Lee Stadium.

Ivy Renfroe was, once again, very effective in the circle and earned her 16th win of the season to just three losses with 12 strikeouts. She allowed just two hits and one run, which came in the third inning. Prior to Becca Carden crossing the plate for the Razorbacks, Renfroe had not allowed an earned run for 34.1 innings.

Over her last eight appearances the right-hander from Jackson, Tenn., is 7-0 with an 0.46 ERA, four complete games and 50 strikeouts in 46 innings, while allowing just three earned runs.

"She's had a very good April," Co-Head Coach Karen Weekly said. "She's really been hot lately. That's the Ivy that we saw going into postseason last year. It's great to see her pitching like that. She did a really good job tonight with her velocity. They were having a hard time getting around on her.

"And then she was able to mix in some other things later in the game that kept them off balance. She looked very well rested tonight."

Renfroe showed no signs of rust, despite not having pitched since last Saturday in a loss to Mississippi State.

"It was different because we've been playing a bunch of games, especially midweek games, and we didn't this week," Renfroe said. "I am glad we got to play today. It was good.

"I just continued to be aggressive like I have in the past recent games. It has worked for me so far. These last few games I have felt much more relaxed."

The Lady Vol batters were quiet in the first two innings, before Raven Chavanne walked in the third, moved to second on a groundout by Kat Dotson and scored on Kelly Grieve's single up the middle.

Tennessee then erupted over the next three innings with three, three and four runs scored, respectively, to end the game in the bottom of the six inning. When Spigner went to the batter's box, there was one out and two runners on base with Tennessee needing just one runner to cross the plate to invoke the run rule.

It was 7-1 entering the bottom of the sixth inning. Chavanne reached after walking, and moved to second when Dotson reached after the first baseman mishandled the throw from the pitcher, who first looked to second, on a grounder. Chavanne scored on Grieve's single to rightfield. That put Tennessee ahead 8-1 and in need of just one run to invoke the rule.

Dotson had moved to third on a fielding error by the rightfielder, who allowed Grieve's solid single to scoot past her, and Grieve settled in at second. Spigner was presented with runners at second and third and only needing to bring one home to end the game. She instead brought everybody home.

"She's been swinging a really hot bat, and we were in a good situation there," Weekly said. "I had a good feeling. She still had to get the job done, but she did it in tremendous fashion."

The Lady Vols were aided by four Arkansas errors, two on what should have been routine outs at first, as Tennessee's speed seemed to fluster the fielders.

"That's our goal is to put pressure on the defense," Weekly said. "With Whitney Hammond in the nine spot you had four kids in a row that all have terrific softball speed.

"The defense, eventually, they'll start thinking about that and hopefully we can force errors, and that's what we try to do. I was very pleased with all four of them. Raven and Kelly both have a lot of hits to show for it, but I thought Kat Dotson had three tremendous at-bats where she did exactly what we want – put the ball on the ground and force plays.

"If you can do that over and over and over hopefully the latter innings of the game you're going to force errors."

Tennessee scored 11 runs on 10 hits with Chavanne going 2-2 with two walks, Spigner 2-3 and Grieve 3-4. The trio also scored two runs each.

"With all of our slappers, we can (also) bunt and hit, so I think people kind of get confused as to what to do with us," Chavanne said. "Our job is to put as much pressure on the defense to get on, whether it's by hit, error, walk, home run, whatever we need to do."

Arkansas entered the game with just three conference wins, including one over Georgia, and a non-conference victory in February over then top-ranked UCLA. The Razorbacks' overall mark reflects their struggles this season, but Tennessee didn't play as if it paid attention to win-loss records.

"At the end of the season we can't take anybody for granted," Renfroe said. "It's coming down to business, so that's what we're doing. That's what the coaches say. You can't take anyone for granted."

Karen Weekly said she saw early signs that the team understood the message.

"I felt like in warm-up we were ready to play," Weekly said. "From the first pitch I felt we were ready to play. They know how important these games are. We're in a race for a conference championship, and we don't have to tell them that.

"They go online, and they can look at the records, so they know every game matters. You have to come out ready to play but not let that put too much pressure on you, and we did a good job of that tonight, and that's what we'll need to continue to do (this weekend)."

Tennessee has two more games against Arkansas, both scheduled for 1 p.m. Eastern, on Saturday and Sunday in the final regular season series at home.

The coaches used the break between SEC series to both get some rest and fine-tune some aspects of the team this past week.

"We got a lot of rest, which we need at this time of year," Weekly said. "We've got people injured. Besides the rest it was a good time just to work on some specific things that we felt we needed to shore up as we head into the end of the season.

"I think we were a little slow starting tonight because we've had a longer layoff between games, and you could kind of see that in the first couple of innings, just getting our timing down with our hitting. Once we got our timing down we had some good at bats."

Classes ended Friday with exams starting next week, so the players are mixing the end of the regular season – Tennessee plays at Florida next week – with the need to also close out school.

Renfroe was in the Thornton Center studying on Wednesday when the onslaught of storms hit Knoxville.

"Thank goodness because it's safe," Renfroe said. "They have a basement so there's no windows, but it was loud. We could hear it. It was bad."

The Weeklys, who live relatively close to campus – the area of which was battered by the storms – were hunkered down at their house.

"A number of the kids have damage to their cars, hail damage, and we had that at our house, too," Weekly said. "It was Ralph's car. My precious little car gets to stay in the garage."

Karen Weekly and several players also mentioned the overall impact of the deadly storms.

"We're nowhere near as bad off as a lot of other people in the Southern region, especially in the state of Alabama, so we can certainly count our blessings," Weekly said. "A few trees down in the yard and some cleanup to do is nothing compared to what a lot people are going through, and we're mindful of that and keep those people in our thoughts and prayers."

The players from California, who are accustomed to earthquakes and wildfires, are not used to tornado warnings.

"I told them I have lived in the state of Tennessee for 16 years and I've never been through anything like that," Weekly said. "Never once had to go to the bottom floor of my house and find a place away from windows to huddle down for the night.

"That was very strange so I hope it's going to be another 16 years before we have to endure anything like we did the other night."

Chavanne, who is from Thousand Oaks, Calif., said she sought shelter with friends.

"I was pretty scared. I am not going to lie," Chavanne said. "My car – her name is Sheila – she didn't survive. My car is completely destroyed. I ended up going to my friends' house because I was really scared. I went to some of my friends on the tennis team and I was like, ‘Help me.' I stayed there until the storm passed.

"It was scary and I hope I never have to go through that again."

Chavanne didn't explain the name of her car, but her unusual first name of Raven wasn't her parents' first choice.

"This is what I was told," said Chavanne, who tells the story of her name with the same smiles and enthusiasm with which she relayed her storm experience. "My name was actually Hannah for like a day. Random, right? Both my grandparents absolutely freaked out. They were like, ‘You're not naming her Hannah.' I don't know why they don't like the name.

"My dad was watching ‘The Cosby Show,' in the hospital, and Raven-Symone's name popped up on the credits and my dad was like, ‘How about Raven?' And my mom was like, ‘OK.'

"My parents (Kevin and Jamie Chavanne) and my siblings they all have the most normal names like Rachel and Jamie and then I am like Raven. I am the odd one in the family."

VIDEO COVERAGE

Kelly Grieve

Ivy Renfroe

Jessica Spigner


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