Softball team wins Las Vegas opener

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Freshman right fielder Tiffany Huff got the offense off to a quick start with a first-inning, two-run home run, and senior hurler Monica Abbott struck out 12 in her second no-hitter of 2007 as No. 1 Tennessee (5-0) rolled past Florida International, 8-0, in five innings, in UT's opener on Friday at the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic.

Sophomore third baseman Jennifer Griffin continued her hot-hitting with a 2-for-2 effort and a double to up her season average to a staggering .917 (11-of-12).

Seniors Lindsay Schutzler and India Chiles each registered a hit and an RBI, while junior second baseman Kenora Posey tripled and scored in the second inning. Sophomore pinch hitter Lillian Hammond also recorded an RBI on a bases-loaded walk.

"Karen (co-head coach Weekly) and I thought the team came out ready to play today," co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "We scored early and that put pressure on our opponent. We were especially impressed with Tiffany Huff and Kenora Posey. Huff's home run set the tone for us early. Monica Abbott pitched very well in throwing another no-hitter."

Florida International center fielder Deomni Murray opened the game by coercing a surprising lead-off walk off the three-time All-American Abbott. Following a strikeout of rightfielder Kim Rodriguez, Murray managed to swipe second during designated player Tabitha Embry's at-bat to advance into scoring position. The runner was stranded right there as the 6-3 lefthander punched out Embry and shortstop Monique White to strikeout the side for the 12th time in 18 innings of work in 2007.

After a close play at first cut down Schutzler to begin Tennessee's half of the first, Chiles dropped a successful bunt in front of the pitcher and outraced the throw to reach safely with one retired. During freshman rightfielder Tiffany Huff's at-bat, Chiles swiped second and advanced to third on a passed ball committed by FIU catcher Suzy Ellquist. It turned out it didn't matter where the runner was standing on the basepaths as Huff drove her second home run of the campaign over the wall in deep left center field for a 2-0 advantage.

Sophomore Jennifer Griffin continued her amazing offensive production to start the new season by lacing a double to deep left field for her 10th hit in 11 at-bats in 2007. She was stranded in scoring position as a pop-up off the bat of freshman designated player Alexia Clay was tracked down in foul territory on a diving stab by FIU shortstop White.

The Golden Panthers managed a lead-off runner for the second straight inning against Abbott this time on a throwing error on a bunt off the bat of first baseman Amanda Cox. The UT pitcher ended any chance of FIU scratching out a run by striking out a pair, to improve her total to five K's on the day, and inducing a pop-up handled in front of the dish by junior catcher Shannon Doepking.

With two down in the bottom of the second, Lady Vol junior second baseman Posey drove a triple to right center over a drawn-in outfield to grant Tennessee an opportunity to add to its advantage. Schutzler came through in the clutch by ripping an Eastman offering back up the middle to plate Posey and improve the count to 3-0 in favor of the Big Orange.

Abbott struck out the side in the Florida International third to mark the 13th time the Salinas, Calif., native had turned the trick in just 20 innings of work over UT's first five games.

Huff reached for the second time in the game by drawing a lead-off walk in the bottom of the third against Eastman and was then lifted for speedy pinch running sophomore Lillian Hammond. The move paid immediate dividends as Hammond swiped second to race into scoring position and was sacrificed to third on a perfect bunt by junior first baseman Tonya Callahan.

Griffin dropped a bunt as part of a squeeze play allowing Hammond to race home with UT's fourth run. The Whittier, Calif., native managed to reach first safely on the attempted throw to the plate and later swiped second for Tennessee's third stolen bag of the day. Clay coerced a walk, Doepking popped up to second and sophomore shortstop Liane Horiuchi also walked to load the bags for freshman pinch hitter Erinn Webb. During the Hemet, Calif., native's at-bat,

Eastman uncorked a wild pitch that permitted Hammond to race across the dish for a 5-0 lead. Webb managed the fourth walk of the frame to load the bases for Schutzler who grounded a routine ball down to shortstop. FIU's White nabbed the orb and attempted to cut down the runner Horiuchi at third, but her throw went wide of the bag for an error to keep the inning alive as the Big Orange went up 6-0.

Chiles and new rightfielder Hammond each drew bases-loaded walks to force across tallies to reach the magic eight-run advantage to set up a potential run-rule situation. Pinch hitter Caitlin Ryan ended the frame by flying out to center as 11 Lady Vols came to the plate in the five-run inning.

Abbott struck out the side for the 14th time this season in the fourth and rolled through the FIU line-up one-two-three in the fifth to close out her 18th career no-hitter and second of 2007. She already has 56 strikeouts this year in just 22 innings in the circle.

The No. 1 Big Orange will next be in action on Saturday at 3 p.m. Pacific Time against Sacramento State. Periodic updates will be provided on the Lady Vol Hotline at 865-974-8700 (box #6).

SOFTBALL DRAFT: All three senior members of the top-ranked Tennessee Lady Vol softball team have been chosen in the annual National Pro Fastpitch Draft.

Centerfielder Lindsay Schutzler went No. 1 overall to the Chicago Bandits, pitcher Monica Abbott was chosen as the fourth pick in the second round by the Washington Glory, dropping that low mainly due to concerns that she will instead be a member of the U.S. National Team during the upcoming pro season. The Akron Racers also selected leftfielder India Chiles with the fourth pick of the third round.

The trio joins former Lady Vols Sarah Fekete (Philadelphia Force) and Kristi Durant (New England Riptide) as NPF pro draft picks following that pair's selections in 2006.

Fekete, an '06 first-team Louisville Slugger/National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-American, led the Force during the last pro campaign with a .366 average on 30-of-82 hitting at the dish with 11 runs scored, two doubles and five RBI despite missing much of the season as a member of USA Softball's gold medal-winning World University Games squad that competed in T'ai-nan City, Taiwan.

Both Schutzler and Abbott remain a part of the U.S. National Team final selection pool. That factor places their pro participation for the upcoming campaign in jeopardy due to their obligations to USA Softball.

Players selected in the NPF NCAA draft will be permitted to pursue any available roster spot on their assigned team after completing their college season.

The six NPF teams competing in 2007 include the 2006 Defending Champions, the New England Riptide, the Akron Racers, Chicago Bandits, Rockford Thunder, the Washington Glory, the league's newest team and the Philadelphia Force.

The Michigan Ice will fill in on a limited basis as the seventh team in 2007 with hopes of getting qualified investors to support the team, allowing them to join the league on a full-time basis in 2008. The Arizona Heat intend on returning to the mix with new team owners in 2008.

Due to NCAA regulations, an active college senior-athlete is not eligible to sign with her respective franchise until her 2007 college season is finished.

Major League Baseball is the Official Development Partner of National Professional Fastpitch in the category of women's professional fastpitch softball. The partnership, which began the fall of 2002, is part of The Commissioner's Initiative on Women and Baseball, a league-wide effort to help Major League Baseball and the 30 Major League Clubs build stronger relationships with female audiences.

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