Softball team on West Coast swing

The Tennessee Lady Vol softball squad (9-0) will close out its marathon 11-day West Coast road trip with a single game against Cal State-Fullerton tonight before venturing to the prestigious Palm Springs Classic Feb. 22-24 to face off against a tough schedule that includes a pair of nationally-ranked squads in No. 14 UCLA and No. 23 Fresno State.

The nation's No. 1 team for a second consecutive week after a dominant run through the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic in Las Vegas, Tennessee is 56-57-1 against ranked opponents during co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly's five-plus year tenure.

Recent fortunes have changed, however, as the duo has guided UT to a 48-35 mark over the past three seasons against members of the Top 25, including an 8-5 record against Top 5 teams.

The Big Orange begin the Palm Springs event just 12-25 overall all-time against members of the Pac-10 Conference. They have won seven of their last nine games against the powerhouse conference over the past two campaigns, however, with a pair of victories each over Arizona and Stanford and wins over UCLA, Oregon and Arizona State.

UT will be looking for its initial series triumphs over several programs this week as Tennessee enters Wednesday evening's matchup versus Cal State Fullerton with a 0-3 record all-time against the Titans. In looking ahead to Palm Springs, the Orange & White are 0-2 against Loyola Marymount, 0-1 versus Fresno State , 2-5 against UCLA and have never met Michigan State or Oklahoma State on the softball diamond.

The Orange & White haven't faced CSF, Loyola Marymount or Fresno State since the start of the new millennium, but are 1-1 against the 10-time national champion Bruins over the past two campaigns including a 4-3 upset of then No. 1 UCLA in last year's Women's College World Series opener.

During Tennessee's five-game stay at the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic in Las Vegas last weekend, the Big Orange exhibited their power potential with nine home runs while hitting .376 as a team and outscoring their opposition by a 41-2 count. circle over the length of the weekend.

As a team, Tennessee leads the SEC in batting average (.386), slugging percentage (.641), on-base percentage (.468) and team ERA (0.39), while ranking in the league's top three in hits (86), runs scored (71), RBI (62) and home runs (13).

Individually, sophomore third baseman Jennifer Griffin leads the league in batting average at .667, while Griffin (1.143) and freshman catcher/outfielder Tiffany Huff (14 RBI) are second in slugging percentage and runs-batted-in, respectively. Eight different members of the Big Orange have combined to blast 13 home runs this season through just nine games compared to just four home runs among three individuals through the same period in 2006.

After a couple of days off to recover from their draining travel schedule, the No. 1 Lady Vols will return to the diamond for a single matchup against Cal-State Fullerton tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern before venturing to the prestigious Palm Springs Classic

Live stats will be available when possible through utladyvols.com and, as always, periodic updates will be provided on the Lady Vol Hotline at 865-974-8700 (box #6).

NATIONAL HONORS: For the fourth time in her illustrious career, Tennessee senior pitcher Monica Abbott has been chosen the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Week following her impressive weekend performance at the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic in Las Vegas.

The Salinas, Calif., native was 4-0 with a 0.00 ERA, three shutouts, two no-hitters and 56 strikeouts in just 22 innings in the circle. She has now amassed 100 strikeouts in just eight appearances while holding opponents to a miniscule .024 batting average.

"Thanks to USA Softball for giving me this wonderful honor," Tennessee senior pitcher Monica Abbott said Tuesday. "I am extremely excited about how well our team has been playing so far this year, and I look forward to seeing what this group can do throughout the rest of the season. Our team's having a lot of fun playing softball right now. This honor belongs not just to me, but to our entire team. These awards are just a reflection of the amazing effort shown by everyone in practice and on the field each day."

In the four games in which she appeared at the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic, Abbott gave up just two total hits and no earned runs. She tossed her 18th and 19th career no-hitters in victories over Florida International (8-0 in five inn.) and Cal State Northridge (9-0) that included 12 and 19 strikeouts, respectively.

Against Illinois the 6-3 lefthander allowed only one base knock while striking out 17 in a complete game effort. She K'ed the side 14 times in 22 innings of work this past weekend for an average of 17.8 strikeouts per seven innings. She has now struck out the side a staggering 25 times in 39 total frames of work in 2007.

"Monica had a phenomenal week, one of the best weeks I've ever seen a pitcher have in my coaching career," Tennessee co-head coach Karen Weekly said. "She was in total command of her pitches and has really elevated her game to begin her senior season. This is a great honor for both Monica and our entire program."

Abbott received the national weekly award from USA Softball on three previous occasions: Feb. 10, 2004; Feb. 14, 2005; and March 21, 2006.

Abbott also retained her title as SEC Pitcher of the Week for the second consecutive evaluation period.

With 146 career triumphs, Abbott now stands just six victories from breaking the NCAA Division I career victory record held by former Southern Miss hurler Courtney Blades of 151 wins. She trails former Texas pitcher Cat Osterman's national strikeout mark by 449 K's after her 56-strikeout effort in Las Vegas.

The weekly conference award is the 14th of Abbott's career after she received the Pitcher of the Week honor four times during her freshman season, on five occasions in 2005, three times last year and on Feb. 12th of this campaign.


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