Lady Vols advance to softball final

OXFORD, Miss. – A vital first-inning RBI single by junior left fielder Shelby Burchell and six frames of one-hit relief with 10 Ks from freshman pitcher Ellen Renfroe helped lead No. 7 Tennessee (46-10) to a 2-1 victory over No. 23 Auburn (39-17) on Friday in the SEC semifinals at the Ole Miss Softball Complex.

With the victory over the Tigers, UT advances to the program's second SEC Tournament Championship Game (won the title over LSU in 2006, 3-0) to face No. 5 seed Georgia on Saturday at 8 p.m. Eastern live on ESPN. The title matchup will also be broadcast live via XM Radio Channel 199 and Sirius Channel 215.

Big Orange senior center fielder Kelly Grieve contributed a 2-for-3 effort with a run scored, while Burchell was 1-for-3 with the clutch first-inning RBI single to left. Sophomore third baseman Raven Chavanne went 1-for-2 with a tally and sophomore second baseman Lauren Gibson was 1-for-2.

UT freshman pitcher Ellen Renfroe picked up her 25th victory of the campaign, tossing six innings of one-hit ball while permitting an unearned run with three walks and 10 strikeouts. Sophomore Ivy Renfroe started the contest for the Lady Vols and allowed a single hit over one frame of effort with two walks and a K.

"Today's is the kind of game that the playoffs bring this time of year," Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. "A 2-1 ballgame, both teams fighting really hard, all four pitchers throwing to the best of their ability, that's what you'd expect at this time of year. I felt so proud of our kids. We had some adversity, but we overcame it and beat a good Auburn team."

Auburn's leadoff batter right fielder Morgan Estell reached via a hit by pitch to christen the contest and quickly advanced into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt from second baseman Kelsey Cartwright. After Tiger third baseman Kyndall White lifted a foul down the right field line for the second out of the frame, shortstop Lauren Guzman ripped a single through the right side of the infield.

Estell was held up at third as UT sophomore right fielder Kat Dotson fired a strike to the plate from short right. That proved an important play as Ivy Renfroe managed to get first baseman Kelley Smiley swinging at strike three to leave AU occupants stranded at the corners.

The speed game got things rolling for Tennessee during the bottom of the first as Chavanne and Grieve opened the frame with back-to-back infield singles. Gibson stepped to the dish and ripped a shot to second that ate up Auburn's Cartwright.

The Tiger infielder rushed a throw to first and threw it away as Chavanne crossed to make it 1-0. Following a Lady Vol groundout, Burchell ripped her clutch RBI single to left as Grieve scored for a two-run advantage.

The Big Orange got into a bit of a jam in the top of the second as Ivy Renfroe walked AU catcher Elizabeth Eisterhold and left fielder Katie Colton to start the inning as the call was made to the bullpen to summon in Ellen Renfroe in relief.

The new hurler walked designated player Amber Harrison to load the bases before settling in and exerting some significant influence on the proceedings. The 6-0 right-hander struck out right fielder Caitlin Stangl, Estell and Cartwright in order to escape the jam.

A Lady Vol error helped the Tigers scratch out a tally in the top of the third as a dropped fly ball with one out allowed AU's Guzman to reach safely. Following a walk to first baseman Kelley Smiley, UT's hurler struck out Eisterhold to get closer to getting out of the inning. Unfortunately for the Big Orange, Colton came through with a RBI single to left, plating Guzman unearned and cutting the Auburn deficit to 2-1.

Ellen Renfroe responded to the threat with a strikeout of Harrison to limit the scoreboard damage to a single tally.

With one retired in the bottom of the fifth and UT still clinging to its one-run lead, Chavanne walked and Grieve singled on a perfect high-slapped chopper over third, putting two Lady Vol speedsters on base. Auburn switched pitchers as Angel Bunner was summoned in for a relief appearance.

Gibson blasted a shot to deep left that was caught on a terrific grab by AU's Colton while falling into the bottom of the wall. Spigner stepped into the batter's box with two down and lifted a long fly to left that was nabbed on the warning track as UT hitters registered a pair of near misses in the frame.

Tennessee's Ellen Renfroe managed to strike out the Auburn side during the top of the sixth. She retired both Colton and Harrison swinging, before walking Stangl to put the tying run on base. Estell arrived to the plate as the potential go-ahead run but watched strike three go by as UT moved within three outs of victory.

Down to one final chance on the scoreboard, the Tigers could get nothing started against UT's pitcher as she got Cartwright to ground out to second, White to bounce out to third and Guzman to foul out down the left field line as freshman Chelsea O'Connor made the grab to send UT on to the SEC Tournament Championship.

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