Softball seizes first win in Super Regional

The Lady Vols did what they do – claimed a come-from-behind softball win – and are now within one win of reaching the Women’s College World Series. Go inside with InsideTennessee for free coverage.

Tennessee (46-15) seized a 3-2 win over Florida State (48-13) in the seventh inning to open the Super Regional in Knoxville before a packed and chilly crowd at Lee Softball Stadium.

The fans were dressed in early season attire with Lady Vol blankets, hoodies and sweatshirts the clothes of choice Thursday evening when temperatures dropped from the 80s into the 50s, accompanied by stiff winds.

“I guess that was a typical Tennessee game,” Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Karen Weekly said. “They don’t know how to quit.”

“They’ve had magic in the seventh inning,” Florida State Coach Lonni Alameda said.

The Lady Vol fans didn’t have much reason to cheer early when Tennessee was at-bat, and Florida State claimed a 2-0 lead thanks to a run scored by Ellie Cooper in the second inning and a solo homer by Jessica Warren in the third.

Florida State could have added to the lead with runners at second and third with one out in the second inning, but Tennessee’s Taylor Koenig fielded a ball along the first base line and tagged out the hitter without a throw, making the runners stay put. A lineout to Shaliyah Geathers in left field got Tennessee safely back in the dugout.

Cheyanne Tarango entered the circle in relief for Erin Gabriel after the Warren homer and got a groundout to second, followed by a Koenig stab of a high grounder to end the third inning.

The Lady Vols went to their third pitcher of the game when Rainey Gaffin relieved Tarango in the fifth inning following back-to-back liners to center. Rainey got a slow roller to first for the first out and a hard grounder to second to end the inning.

“They pitch by committee,” Alameda said. “And it’s difficult to prepare for three pitchers.”

Tennessee got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth thanks to Gretchen Aucoin dropping a single down the leftfield line. She would go on to score on a wild pitch to pull Tennessee to 2-1. Meghan Gregg would pop up to second base with the bases loaded to end the inning, an at-bat she wanted to redeem.

The Lady Vols were able to knot the game at 2-2 in the sixth inning after Aucoin singled up the middle with two outs. Geathers singled up the middle to bring Aucoin across the plate.

Gaffin was stellar in the circle to keep the Lady Vols within striking distance.

“Rainey was classic Rainey,” Weekly said. “When she comes in in that relief role, you can see that passion and energy.”

Lexi Overstreet walked to open the bottom of the seventh, and Gaffin grounded out to first. Gregg smoked a 1-2 pitch through the right side of the infield, and Overstreet scored standing up for the 3-2 win.

The soldout crowd of 1,674 erupted – they had cheered all game for great defensive plays and really let loose when one run was scored in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

Weekly had told Gregg she would get another at-bat after the pop-out that left the Lady Vols trailing by a run.

Weekly told Gregg: “You’re going to come back up. Learn from it.”

The coach also had a gut feeling that Gregg would end up in position to win the game.

“I was nervous, but I trusted myself,” said Gregg, who noted she avoided the drop ball of Florida State pitcher Jessica Burroughs in her last at-bat of the game. That was the pitch she popped up in the fifth inning.

Tennessee pitches by committee. Florida State has two aces. Lacey Waldrop, who has an ERA of 1.50, will be in the circle Friday. Game two is at 4 p.m. The if-necessary game three is at 7 p.m. Tennessee needs one win to get to Oklahoma City. Florida State needs two.

“Make adjustments and come back and win two,” Burroughs said. “I think we’ll come back and battle.”

The Weeklys made it a point to tell the players that one win won’t get it done in the Super Regional. Enjoy it, the coaches told the players, but be ready for a fight on Friday.

The Tennessee coaches likely found a leadoff hitter in Overstreet, who reached base four times and tallied the winning run.

“I took it as another spot in the lineup, and I’ve got to get on base,” said Overstreet, who smiled and acknowledged she was honored to bat first.

Overstreet and Burroughs are both from Georgia and know each other well from travel ball before college.

“I’ve played her so many times,” Overstreet said.

Karen Weekly referred to Overstreet as “Miss May,” a reference to her elevated play in postseason.

“You need players like that who are going to step up big when the lights are brightest,” Weekly said.

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