Lady Vols softball notebook

The SEC title is on the line beginning today in Gainesville when Tennessee takes on Florida in the final series of the regular season. Scoreboard watchers will be busy this weekend, as what happens in Oxford also matters with Alabama, the defending league champion, taking on Ole Miss.

Entering play Friday, Tennessee (44-7, 20-5) has a slight edge over Florida (44-8, 18-7) with Alabama (42-7, 16-6) hovering one game behind the Lady Vols.

The Crimson Tide are at Ole Miss (14-36, 3-20) and need to sweep the Rebels and have the Gators take two of three from Tennessee to claim SEC supremacy in 2011. The trophy is awarded based on winning percentage in league games so for Florida to take the crown Alabama would need to lose at least one game to Ole Miss (unlikely), and the Gators would have to sweep Tennessee (not out of the question).

The Lady Vols do control their own destiny by simply winning, and if Alabama loses a game at Ole Miss, Tennessee would need just one win over Florida to seize the championship.

But getting wins in Gainesville won't be easy. Tennessee is 5-19 in Gainesville and won just one series in 2007, two games to one. The Lady Vols were swept at Pressly Stadium in 2009. Overall, Florida leads the series, 35-18, with 11 of the Lady Vol wins coming during the Weekly era at Tennessee, which began in 2002.

"It could be win three, lose three or any combination therein," Tennessee Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. "Probably the most powerful team we've ever played."

Weekly talked more about facing Florida in this video interview:

Game times (Eastern) are 4:30 p.m. (FSN-Florida) on Friday; noon (ESPN) on Saturday; and 3 p.m. (ESPNU) on Sunday. Tennessee is 8-0 this season in TV games.

POWER SURGE: Florida has hit 100 homers this season – just nine fewer than the school record of 109 – and leads the country in the long ball.

Tennessee also has power to go with its speed led by junior Jessica Spigner (14 homers), Shelby Burchell (13) and Kat Dotson (10). It's the first time since 2002 that the Lady Vols have had three hitters with 10 or more taters. The previous trio was Blaine Teasley (12), Adrianna Wilson (12) and Carissa Roustan (10).

The diminutive Lauren Gibson also has shown power at the plate to go with an outstanding .507 batting average over the past 26 games that included five homers. She leads the SEC in league games with an average of .479. She has done this despite being spiked in the left leg early in April – a gash that required 10 stitches – and has since worn a protective shin pad.

Overall, Gibson has six homers this season.

"I'm not that big," said Gibson, who attributes the power to upper body strength workouts and bat speed.

Tennessee has 61 homers as a team, a school single-season record, besting the mark of 52 set in 1996 and equaled in 2002 and 2005.

Spigner set the record at LSU in mid-April and has launched seven homers in the past 13 games, including a grand slam over the scoreboard in the sweep over Arkansas last weekend. The blasts – she also cleared the scoreboard against Mississippi State – are rather amazing to watch, based on the reaction of the fans in the stands.

"Yes, it is," Gibson said. "Girls, we're not supposed to be able to hit the ball that far and when we have somebody that's able to do it, it's really incredible."

TWO-OUT PRODUCTION: The Lady Vols have been at their best at bat when they have two outs. Tennessee has 137 two-out RBIs this season and leads the SEC in two-out batting average at .331.

In a pair of three-game series against LSU and Arkansas, the Lady Vols tallied 27 two-out RBIs – 17 against the Lady Tigers and 10 against the Razorbacks.

"It just says we have the ability to attack through the lineup," Ralph Weekly said.

FRESHMAN SENSATIONS: First-year players will be all over the field this weekend for Tennessee, as the Lady Vols have relied on the youngsters all season.

One of those freshmen is pitcher Ellen Renfroe, who has taken the approach that the game remained the same even though the competition got tougher.

"Our coaches have helped us," Renfroe said. "We try to encourage each other. It's the same game. It's still softball. The game has not changed. You still use the same yellow ball.

"Coming into this season I was talking to a coach and he said, ‘Ellen, it's the same ball. There are still nine players on the field. There is going to be a hitter up there and they're going to have a bat. It's all the same thing.'

"Even though it is on a different level you still have to keep that same mentality. Have fun with it. You're going to get beat some games. Some games you're not going to be on perfectly. That is when you really learn and you have to fight through not being perfect every time and coming through with the big hit or the strikeout."

Renfroe made the relatively short trip from Jackson, Tenn., to wear orange and be a part of the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. Freshman Melissa Davin traveled from Fresno, Calif.

"I love the coaches. I love the team. It's just a great atmosphere, and I wanted to play here," Davin said of the decision to play so far from home. "I know if I need them (family) they'll be here in a heartbeat."

Davin has been slotted primarily this season at designated player and first base.

"Growing up I played utility," Davin said. "I've been everywhere. I've been in different situations so it just comes natural."

The freshmen – other members of the group are Ashley Holmes, Tory Lewis, Chelsea O'Connor, Kourtny Thomas and Madison Shipman – have embraced the pressure.

"You would think we would have heavy shoulders from it, but we come out, we practice hard, we work hard, we put everything we've got into the field every day, and it's showing," Davin said.

RUN RAVEN RUN: Raven Chavanne didn't play softball in high school in Thousand Oaks, Calif. – she did play for the powerhouse Haning's OC Batbusters Gold in the summer – and instead ran track and excelled as a sprinter.

So who's quicker down the first base line – the sophomore Chavanne or the senior Kelly Grieve?

"Oh, that's close," Ralph Weekly said. "They're both under 2.6 (seconds), which is considered in softball world class speed. Kat (Dotson) might be faster than both of them."

The sophomore was honored this past week as the NFCA Division I Co-National Player of the Week and the SEC Player of the Week, along with being nominated for the U.S. Olympic Committee's April 2011 Female Athlete of the Month award.

Chavanne, along with Dotson, also has been invited to the 2011 USA Softball Women's National Team Selection Camp next month in Chula Vista, Calif.

She has hit safely in 41 of Tennessee's 51 games this season and has reached by hit or walk in an eye-popping 46 of those contests.

"Raven is the best leadoff hitter I've ever had, and we've had several All-Americans here, and they've all been good," Weekly said.

"But Raven has just got that extra ability. If Raven (who also can slap and bunt her way on base) would swing away all the time she would hit 15 home runs, because she's got a lot of lightning in her bat."

Chavanne also has flashed speed in the field. She darted just barely into foul territory near the leftfield wall and made a leaping grab of a line drive against Mississippi State last month.

"I was just trying to track it," Chavanne said. "I didn't know if it was even fair or foul. I was just trying to catch the ball. We were only up by two, and it was sixth inning. I was just trying to catch it, and I guess it paid off. It happened fast."

Chavanne also can field at the hot corner of third base. She started some games there this season while Jessica Spigner was the designated player in the hitting lineup.

"Some days I like third more," Chavanne said. "Some days I like outfield more. Wherever the coaches want me I'll play and I'll learn to like that for the day. I actually haven't played third base since I've been 15. Playing third was kind of like a shock. But it's my natural position, I think, so it wasn't too hard to readjust back.

"Wherever the coach needs me I'll play except pitcher because that would be a mess."

THE ODD 88: Raven Chavanne explained her unusual first name last week – she was originally christened Hannah, but her grandparents balked and her father, while watching the credits scroll for an old "The Cosby Show" episode, noticed Raven roll by on the television at the hospital.

Chavanne also has explained her choice of the No. 88, which is more likely to be seen on wide receivers than softball players.

"I am from Southern California and Kobe came into the NBA when I was 6 years old, and he was No. 8, so I was always No. 8," Chavanne said. "When he changed his number to 24 I wanted to change mine, but I kind of have an emotional attachment, I guess you could say, to the number eight, so I chose 88 instead of 24.

"That's the lame story behind it. Everyone is like, ‘You know you're not playing football?' I am like, ‘I know,' but if I was a guy I would."

MOVIE NIGHT: After the Lady Vols swept Arkansas last weekend – all three games were run rule ones, giving Tennessee 20 on the season with 23 the school record set in 2006 – Ralph Weekly suggested a movie to end the evening at home.

His wife and co-head coach, Karen Weekly, suggested a viewing of Florida.

"We watched film," Ralph Weekly said. "We watched the Gators. I am seeing the Gators in my sleep right now. We have watched at least 15 films on them. Of course she had to see last year's games against us and then she had (pitching coach) Marty (McDaniel) review every game we were on TV so she could see if (the Florida coach) could see any patterns for us."

Weekly smiled and summed up his wife with this observation: "She's a lawyer."

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