Softball team to open NCAA play

The road to the Women's College World Series has started as 64 teams will square off at 16 sites in NCAA Regional play. Fifth-seeded and No. 2-ranked Tennessee (54-5) will serve as host of the Knoxville Regional for the third consecutive season beginning on Friday as the Lady Vols will face Furman (21-34-1) at 5 p.m. Eastern.

North Carolina (45-19) and Winthrop (48-16) will kick off the four-team, double-elimination event at 2:30 p.m. at Tyson Park.

The Orange & White maintain an 18-9 overall record in four previous NCAA Tournament runs and an 8-4 mark in NCAA Regional action. UT has swept through its last two regionals in Knoxville (2005, 2006) by totaling a perfect 6-0 slate. Last season, Tennessee defeated Tennessee Tech (6-4), Virginia Tech (9-1, five innings) and Louisville (8-1) to advance to face Michigan in the NCAA Super Regionals.

The Lady Vols boast a perfect 4-0 record against the Furman Lady Paladins. The two squads last met at the Charleston Southern Tournament in Summerville, S.C., on March 5, 2005, with Tennessee recording an 11-0 (five innings) victory on the way to the tourney title. The Big Orange have battled Furman just once in Knoxville back on April 18, 1998, with UT prevailing 8-2.

Under the guidance of head coach and former Lady Paladin player Dana Jenkins, Furman earned an automatic bid into the tourney field of 64 and its first-ever NCAA postseason trip with a surprising run to the SoCon Tournament championship despite entering the event as the seventh seed in an eight-team league.

In possession of a 21-34-1 record, the Lady Paladins have gotten on a roll at the best possible time having won five of their last seven contests entering NCAA play. The offensive stats aren't gaudy as Furman is hitting only .240 as a team with 23 homers while scoring 3.5 runs per contest. In comparison, the opposition has registered a .285 average and 4.4 tallies per game.

Sophomore Amber Kiser has led the offense in batting average at .316 while registering a school-record 46 runs scored to go along with five triples, three HRs and 19 RBI. Senior Megan Jaudon (six HRs, .278 average, 24 RBI), freshman Lana Mackey (five HRs, .288 average, 28 RBI) and sophomore Stephanie Cushing (five HRs) have provided the pop for the Lady Paladins with 16 of the squad's 23 total round trippers.

Cushing possesses a team-best 45 RBI despite owning just a .240 batting average. Mackey has also contributed in the circle with a 2.87 ERA and a 9-13 mark in 136.2 innings.

Junior Blake Murray has seen the most time on the rubber with 155.2 frames of work, a 10-17 record and a 3.24 ERA. Sophomore Vanessa Williams has been in a supporting role by recording a 3.99 ERA and a 2-4 mark in 66.2 innings. Furman's defense has committed 86 errors on the season (.950 fielding percentage) to help a staggering 72 unearned runs cross the plate for the opposition.

Despite being picked fourth in its league in the preseason, Winthrop surprised everyone by rolling to 48 wins and the Big South Conference title. In his 18th season as head coach of the Lady Eagles, Mark Cooke has guided Winthrop to 503 victories in his career and 13 wins in its last 15 games in 2007. The Garnet & Gold have hit the ball exceptionally well this year by tallying a .321 team batting average, 374 runs scored and 47 home runs.

Sophomore Lisa Kingsmore is leading the squad at .403 with 11 doubles and 32 RBI, while senior Jenny Scrymgeour has established a new school-record for RBI with 58 to go along with a .352 average and seven round trippers. Senior Laura Hill (.358, nine HRs), sophomore Tessa Thomas (.369, eight HRs), junior Stephanie Reid (.330, nine HRs) and sophomore Mallory Hogan (.308, seven HRs) have recorded 33 of the squad's 47 big flies.

Freshman Megan Evans has served as the team's No. 1 in the circle with a 25-7 record and a 2.14 ERA in 179.2 innings. Another rookie, Cari Woolridge, has also posted a 15-4 record with a 3.05 ERA in 144.2 frames, and junior Izzy (Jacqueline) Trottier has hurled 99.2 innings with a 2.81 ERA and an 8-5 mark.

The North Carolina Tar Heels will be venturing to their sixth NCAA Tournament, all since 2001. UNC is the only opponent at the Knoxville Regional that UT has already faced during the 2007 campaign as the Big Orange downed the Carolina Blue & White, 2-1 in eight innings, at the Carolina Classic in Chapel Hill, N.C., back on Feb. 10. The Tar Heels are hitting .261 as a team with 33 HRs while recording 4.3 runs per contest. UNC's pitching staff and defense are limiting the opposition to just a .225 clip and 2.4 runs per game but have allowed 40 round trippers.

Sophomores Emily Troup and Brianna Brown currently head the offensive attack average-wise at .348 and .343, respectively. Juniors Jennifer Jacobs (.283, team-high 39 RBI) and Cassie Palmer (.274, 23 RBI) have supplied the power with seven HRs each, while senior Anna Evans has five HRs and 33 RBI despite her .242 batting average.

Sophomore Lisa Norris has been the ace in the circle for the Tar Heels with a 1.94 ERA, 23 complete games, a 24-12 record and 229 strikeouts in 227.1 innings. Sophomore Amber Johnson has served as a high-quality second choice by posting a 14-6 record with a 2.08 ERA and 162 Ks in 158.1 frames of work. UNC has been relatively solid in the field with a .972 fielding percentage and 50 errors in 64 contests.

No. 2 Tennessee will open its NCAA Regional run against Furman at 5 p.m. ET on Friday, May 18, at Tyson Park. Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com, and periodic updates will be provided to the Lady Vol Hotline at 865-974-8700 (box #6).

UT's run in the NCAA Tournament will be broadcast live by The Sports Animal (99.1, 99.3 FM, 990 AM, through utladyvols.com via Yahoo Sports) with the "Voice of the Lady Vols" Mickey Dearstone on the call.


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