Lady Vols defeat UNC in 8 innings

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It took extra innings but No. 2 Tennessee rode the strong arm of three-time senior All-American Monica Abbott to a clutch, 2-1 triumph in eight innings over homestanding North Carolina in front of 1,244 fans at the Eugene Anderson Stadium on Saturday afternoon at the Carolina Classic.

Abbott hurled her 17th career no-hitter with 19 strikeouts from the circle against UNC, a 2006 NCAA field of 64 participant, to guide the way to victory.

The 6-3 lefthander struck out the side four times against the Tar Heels and has now turned the trick nine times in her 15 innings of work in 2007. She has allowed just one hit to open the season, no earned runs and has struck out 38.

Sophomore third baseman Jennifer Griffin went 3-for-3 with a double and her second home run of the early campaign to help lead the offense. She is now hitting a staggering .875 (7-of-8) through the opening three games at the Carolina Classic, while senior center fielder Lindsay Schutzler was 2-for-4 to set her event average at .625.

"We were fortunate to catch a very good Penn State team early in the season," Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "Our speed game set up some quick scores to get us off to a good start. Lindsay Schutzler and Jennifer Griffin were exceptional with the bats in Saturday's opener. Monica Abbott and Megan Rhodes both pitched extremely well for us against PSU.

"North Carolina is a really good team and playing in front of more than 1,200 of their fans on their home field made this game extra-challenging for our ball club. We had runners in scoring position in every single inning, but we couldn't seem to get the one big hit we needed to blow the game open.

"Monica was totally dominant in the circle with 19 strikeouts and a no-hitter, and the only run of the game we allowed was set up by a freshman mistake which happens. Jennifer and Lindsay continued their hot hitting. You learn more about the quality of your team in games like this than in all of the work time after Christmas until the beginning of the season."

To get things started in the top of the first for the visiting Lady Vols, Schutzler ripped a liner past third baseman Joslin Higgins for a lead-off single. The Monterey, Calif., native advanced to second and into scoring position on a perfect sacrifice bunt by Chiles. Following a strikeout by freshman catcher Tiffany Huff against UNC hurler Lisa Norris, junior first baseman Tonya Callahan laced a hard grounder down to third. Carolina 's Higgins dove to her left to corral the orb and threw on to Jen Jacobs at first to end the frame with no damage done.

Abbott rolled through the bottom of the first by striking out second baseman Cassie Palmer, center fielder Breanna Brown and shortstop Anna Evans to retire the side. The occurrence marked the sixth time in Abbott's eight innings of work at the Carolina Classic that the three-time All-American pitcher had struck out the side.

Doepking walked to christen the top of the second and advanced 60 feet on a hard single up the middle from sophomore third baseman Jennifer Griffin. Sophomore Lillian Hammond was summoned off the bench to pinch run, but was left stranded at second as consecutive strikeouts and a high fly out to left by freshman pinch hitter Alexia Clay ended any scoring threat and kept the contest scoreless.

The bottom of the second looked eerily similar to the first as Abbott struck out the side for the seventh time in nine innings of work on the weekend. It also marked the fifth straight occurrence for the 6-3 lefthander including her two perfect innings on Saturday morning in the 9-1 (five innings) win over Penn State and the fifth stanza of Friday's 8-0 (five innings) triumph against Coastal Carolina.

UT got another offensive threat started in the top of the third with two down as Huff coerced a walk and Callahan ripped a ball deep into the hole at short to grant the Big Orange a pair of runners. Doepking stepped to the dish and drove a threatening liner into right that was corralled on the sprinting run by right fielder Emily Troup for the final out of the frame.

Abbott's count grew to six consecutive perfect innings over three games at the conclusion of North Carolina's half of the third. The Salinas, Calif., native struck out designated player Stephanie Murad, Troup and left fielder Ashley Oxendine to K the side in order for the sixth straight frame.

The Tar Heels successfully got the bat on the ball in the bottom of the fourth against Abbott but did no damage as easy pop-ups were handled by Horiuchi at short and Griffin at third. UNC center fielder Brianna Brown struck out to end the inning and mark Abbott's 10th K of the contest. The occurrence was the 87th time in her UT career that the hurler registered 10 or more strikeouts in a game.

For the second time in the contest, Schutzler led off an inning by reaching base after coercing a walk to open the top of the fifth. Chiles sacrificed the runner up 60 feet on a bunt and into scoring position for Huff. The freshman from Saugus, Calif., grounded out to second base to advance Schutzler to third with two down and bring Callahan, the top RBI producer in the Southeastern Conference last season, to the dish with a prime opportunity to grant UT the lead. She was struck by a Norris offering, however, to make it runners at the corners. Doepking grounded into a fielder's choice to short to cut down Callahan at second and end the frame.

With one retired in the UNC bottom of the fifth, the Tar Heels got a much-needed baserunner as catcher Whitney Gelin struck out, but raced safely down to first as the wild third strike got away from Doepking behind the dish. Abbott responded as usual by punching out Murad and Troup to end any possible threat and up her K total to 14 through five innings after K'ing four hitters in the fifth.

The Lady Vols got the tally they were searching for in the top of the sixth as Griffin reprised her long ball heroics from last year's Women's College World Series. The 5-5 third baseman hammered a Norris offering over the "200" sign in straight-away center field for a solo blast and a crucial 1-0 UT advantage. Posey and Schutzler registered back-to-back base hits with two down to give the Lady Vols a pair of baserunners and a golden opportunity to add to their newly found lead.

Unfortunately for the Orange & White, Chiles bounced into a fielder's choice that UNC shortstop Anna Evans nabbed on the run and touched third unassisted to end the threat with no further damage.

An error on a missed throw at first off a ground ball by Oxendine granted the Tar Heels a runner at second to open the bottom of the sixth. A Palmer groundout to Callahan at first advanced the runner up 60 feet with one down, and Abbott struck out Brown for the second out. The senior uncorked a wild pitch that was high and ricocheted off the backstop during Evans' at-bat allowing Oxendine to race home and tie the score at 1-1. Evans went down swinging two pitches later to close out the inning.

Now facing a deadlock heading into the seventh, the Lady Vols got an important lead-off base hit by Huff to give the offense a chance to break the tie. With one down Doepking grounded a ball to second that bounced off Palmer's glove before rolling into right center field. Huff scampered around to third on the play to grant the Big Orange runners at the corners with Griffin stepping to the dish.

UNC head coach Donna J. Papa signaled for the free pass to put Griffin on by intentional walk and load the bags with one out. The move paid dividends as Pieroni struck out to bring freshman pinch hitter Anita Manuma to the plate for her first collegiate at-bat in a daunting pressure situation. The rookie utility player worked the count to 3-2 against Norris but popped up to shortstop for out number three.

Abbott retired the Carolina Blue & White in order in the bottom of the seventh to keep the contest deadlocked at 1-1 and bring the international tiebreaker into play. Under rule, each team began its offensive half inning with a runner standing on second base.

Horiuchi was placed at second for UT to christen the eighth and advanced to third on a perfect sacrifice bunt by Posey. Schutzler ripped a hard grounder that skirted right through the legs of Evans at short for an error to permit Horiuchi to race in for a 2-1 lead. Chiles flied out to left, and Schutzler was cut down on the play by a perfect throw from Oxendine in left to Palmer at second to end the top of the eighth.

UNC's Gelin opened the bottom of the eighth standing at second base just 120 feet from tallying the equalizer. Abbott would have none of a ninth frame as she struck out Higgins and Troup and coerced a foul out by Oxendine to end the contest and nab a big win for the Lady Vols.

The No. 2 Big Orange will close out their participation at the Carolina Classic on Sunday morning against the College of Charleston at 10 a.m. Gametracker will be available and periodic updates will be provided on the Lady Vol Hotline at 865-974-8700 (box # 6).

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