Softballers 3rd in final rankings

STARKVILLE, Miss. -- A season of firsts for the Tennessee Lady Vol softball team continues as the Orange & White utilized a third-place finish in their inaugural visit to the Women's College World Series to climb to an all-time program high of third in the final release of the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) poll and the Softball rankings.

NCAA champion Michigan was the unanimous top choice in each listing followed by national runner-up UCLA. UT's highest previous ranking in any poll was fourth according to the NFCA on March 9, March 30 and April 6 of this season.

For the Lady Vol softball program the 2005 campaign was a magical ride as the squad utilized the efforts of an outstanding freshman class, a nation-best fifty wins and 603 K's from 6-3 lefthanded All-American pitcher Monica Abbott and the contributions of three stellar All-American position players, junior third baseman Kristi Durant (.387 average, nation-leading 77 RBI), junior centerfielder Sarah Fekete (.414 average, 30 SB) and sophomore shortstop Lindsay Schutzler (.396 average, SEC record 107 hits, 36 SB), on the way to a national single-season record-tying 67 victories and the program's first trip to Oklahoma City and the WCWS.

After completing the regular-season at 56-11 overall, the Lady Vols opened the postseason with a 3-2 mark at the SEC Tournament and was tabbed as the nation's No. 11-seed to christen NCAA Regional play. With Tennessee hosting the opening rounds of the Big Dance for the first time in UT softball history, the Big Orange swept through three contests at Tyson Park by downing Miami (OH) 9-0, and then registering back-to-back shutouts over the College of Charleston (4-0, 2-0). Abbott threw her 10th career no-hitter in the regional-clinching contest and allowed just three hits during the weekend.

With a change in NCAA Tournament format for the 2005 campaign, Tennessee jetted to California to face-off in an NCAA Super Regional best-of-three series against No. 6 national-seed Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif., with a berth in the Women's College World Series on the line. The matchups proved to be no contest as Abbott limited Stanford to three total hits in back-to-back blankings (2-0, 6-0) and junior utility player Katherine Card and Schutzler led the way with .667 and .500 batting averages, respectively.

In the WCWS for the first time and facing No. 3 Arizona in its opening contest, Tennessee responded with a 1-0 victory behind a one-hitter from Abbott and a clutch sixth-inning hit from Card that scored daring sophomore Ashley Cline from first. After a tough 3-1 defeat to No. 7 UCLA in winners' bracket action, the Lady Vols recovered to eliminate No. 8 Alabama, 4-0, and advance on to face top-seed Michigan for a spot in the national championship series. In a must-win game against the No. 1-ranked Wolverines, Abbott and the Lady Vol defense kept things scoreless until the bottom of the 11th-inning when UT finally struck paydirt. After a lead-off single from Durant, freshman first baseman Tonya Callahan stepped to the dish and hit a towering shot down the left field line that landed just beyond the wall to begin a raucous celebration at 1:30 a.m. local time and complete a 2-0 Lady Vol victory. Unfortunately, UT came up just a single run short just a few hours later in the rematch by falling 3-2 to eventual national titlist Michigan.

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