"The kids played hard today," Co-head Coach Ralph Weekly said. "We found a way to win. Alexia Clay and Anita Manuma, two freshmen, really were key to our offense.
"We started freshmen today. We did that because some people haven't been hitting, and we wanted to give them the opportunity. When you start that many freshmen sometimes you have inexperience problems. Winthrop had scored 11 and seven runs in their last two games, so I think our play will be fine. We just need to regroup, get someone in India's position permanently and find out what kind of lineup we're going to go with against whomever comes here."
Manuma made a good case for herself Sunday. She batted seventh in the order – senior Lindsay Schutzler moved into Chiles' leadoff spot – and went 3-4 at the plate with one RBI that accounted for the game's first run.
At the time Weekly was speaking to the media, Hawaii and Loyola Marymount still had to play in their regional final in Los Angeles. Hawaii (49-11) emerged victorious, winning three games without any losses, including an upset of seeded host UCLA, and will travel to Knoxville for the Super Regional this coming Friday and Saturday.
Manuma, a native of Hawaii, will get the chance to play not only against her home state school but also against family. Two older sisters, Malamaisaua Manuma, an outfielder, and Valana Manuma, a junior shortstop, are on the Wahine roster, though Malamaisaua is taking a redshirt year to recover from shoulder surgery.
"I'm going to be happy to see her," Manuma said. "It has been a while since I've actually seen family in Tennessee. I'm excited, but we're ready for them. We're ready for whoever we're going to play."
Tennessee (57-5) won three straight games in the regional against Furman, North Carolina and Winthrop by scores of 8-0, 2-0 and 7-0, respectively. Not one opponent crossed home plate against the Lady Vols. Senior pitcher Monica Abbott (44-3) struck out 12 batters Sunday and had 42 strikeouts total during the regional.
"We faced Monica Abbott today, and great pitching beats great hitting as far as I'm concerned," Winthrop Coach Mark Cooke said. "I don't care what anybody says. She really did a great job of controlling our hitters, and we just never had any opportunity to get anything going, and she just did a great job of mixing pitches up and making it move and blowing it by us, quite frankly."
Abbott walked one batter and yielded only three hits – centerfielder Tessa Thomas had two of them – but Sunday's performance was sub-par by Abbott's standards.
"I think Monica would tell you that she didn't hit her spots a lot today, but she is just a gamer, and our defense played really well," Weekly said. "I think that's the key, and we're really proud of that."
Tennessee got on the board in the second inning when catcher Shannon Doepking singled up the middle. Clay, who couldn't get the bunt down, then swung away and knocked the ball to the fence for a double to right-center that got Doepking to third base. Manuma singled on an infield chopper to leftfield to bring in Doepking, and Clay went to third. A passed ball allowed Manuma to get to second. Cooke summoned Izzy Trottier from the bullpen to replace Cari Wooldridge, and then Liane Horiuchi walked to load the bases.
Kajitani hit a ground ball to the shortstop, and Clay was forced out at home. The bases remained loaded for Schutzler, who hit the ball to second. Sarah Magee, a usually sure-handed defender, threw home but the ball sailed over the catcher's head, and both Manuma and Horiuchi scored. Danielle Pieroni pinch hit and grounded out and then Tonya Callahan was walked intentionally with first base open and two out. Winthrop got out of the inning without any more damage after a groundout by Huff.
Tennessee got three more runs in the sixth inning in a similar scenario. Schutzler reached safely on a bunt, and then Kenora Posey walked. Tonya Callahan, who had been walked intentionally earlier when first base was open, singled to centerfield to load the bases again. Huff hit the ball to Magee, but her throw home was well wide of the catcher, and Schutzler and Posey scored.
Doepking grounded out to Magee, and Huff moved to second on the play. Cooke brought Megan Evans in to pitch. Clay flied out to deep centerfield, which allowed Caitlin Ryan, who had pinch run for Callahan, to score the game's sixth run.
Tennessee added another run in the seventh inning after Horiuchi singled to start off and then stole second. She moved to third on Schutzler's single, but not without a little controversy. Horiuchi and shortstop Stephanie Reid collided, and the ball rolled away.
Cooke came out to argue for an interference call, but it was a short-lived attempt.
"They said that our player couldn't make the play," Cooke said. "That was the judgment, and there's no argument for judgments."
Winthrop rightfielder Lisa Kingsmore said the team felt like that decision was "very unusual because our shortstop has a lot of range." Cooke added, "She covers second base and third base. We feel like she catches everything."
Horiuchi went on to score on Posey's groundout to short to push the lead to 7-0.
The two throwing errors by Magee meant four of Tennessee's runs were unearned, but Cooke refused to blame his player after the game.
"You can look at it two errors out of second base, but she's made hundreds of plays all year that were great," Cooke said. "You can't be perfect all the time. It hurt us, we knew it, but that's part of the game. You've seen her diving, going crazy out there. She's made some great stops for us. She's just a tremendous player."
Magee was hit in the hand in the third inning, and Cooke said that might have affected her second throw. (In the first errant throw in the second inning, the ball appeared to just slip out of her hand and sail high.)
"She got hit in the hand by Monica earlier in an at-bat, and I don't know how that fazed her throw, but she's got a big black mark on her hand," Cooke said. "She was hurting pretty bad. When Monica Abbott hits you, you remember it. I should have taken her out when she got hit. She, of course, talked me into not doing it."
Cooke said Magee was upset by the errors, but "she's a gamer, she'll be fine, she'll bounce back."
Thomas did have some success against Abbott. She reached twice on two line-drive singles – Kingsmore also had a single – and said she took a simplified approach to hitting.
"I just went up thinking it's another pitcher, it's another game, so see the ball and hit it to be honest," Thomas said. "Just wait for it to be in your zone and hope to drive it somewhere."
Winthrop (50-18) loses four seniors – three of whom Cooke brought in from Canada – but the Eagles said the NCAA postseason experience should pay dividends next year.
"We have four great senior leaders in Jenny Scrymgeour, Laura Hill, Lauren Blaser (Washington state) and Hilary Peacock," Cooke said. "They're just such positive kids, they're great role models. They're great character people. And it bled off to this team. The whole team is just full of great kids. There's none of them that you'd be ashamed of to take home and meet your mother, and I'm real proud of them and of what all they did."
Canada has served as a pipeline for Cooke for recruiting players to Rock Hill, S.C.
"I went and watched a tournament that the Newmarket Tigers were in and went and talked to the coach," said Cooke, who learned then that the team had three unsigned high school seniors. "We took a chance on them, and two of them have had a 4.0 most of their time in college, and the other has had a 3.4 or 3.5. They're just great academic students, they're great people and they're just good kids to have. When you get someone that nice, you just keep going back and getting more."
Thomas and Kingsmore, who also are from Canada, will return next season.
"I think the whole year, as a whole, was a great year to build on," Thomas said. "Coming out with 50 wins, we have a lot of people who've been here and are going to be here next year and know what it takes to take it to that next level. It was great; it was great to be here and we'll never forget."
Cooke made it a point to thank the Lady Vols athletic department for the hospitality and accommodating service during the regional.
"Todd (Dooley) and the Tennessee people have made our first NCAA Regional feel like we were playing in Yankee Stadium," Cooke said. "I have never met a group of people that take care of every want, every wish that a team could have. They have done so much extra for us. We weren't happy (with our draw). We wanted to travel to an exotic place somewhere for a regional, but I couldn't have picked any place that I would have rather had or I'd rather come back to next year.
"We have been treated first class and we've been treated, I think, as good as anybody has ever been treated. I appreciate what everybody here has done for us."
The Winthrop team can leave the regional knowing it competed in its first-ever NCAA tourney appearance.
"This whole last tournament was a really good thing for us," Kingsmore said. "We were expected to come here and do our best, and we had good battles, especially with UNC. That was one of our best games of the whole year. We didn't stop; we didn't give up."
Kingsmore also declared Tennessee to be one of the top three of the 16 remaining teams in the postseason.
"We faced Abbott, one of the top pitchers, and we know they're going to be top three in this whole thing," Kingsmore said. "It's really good for us to get a chance, to get our cuts in and have good battles. We can't complain about that. Next year, we're losing four seniors, but we're going to come back even stronger, hopefully, and really rock it.
"Canadians rule. We're going to take over one day."
That remark brought laughter from Thomas and Cooke, and it was clear Winthrop wasn't sweating the loss.
For Tennessee it was three expected wins. The Lady Vols' goal since the beginning of the season has been to win a national title – Tennessee finished third in the past two College World Series – and they feel like they still have improvements to make. The team did bounce back from the loss of Chiles, who injured her knee Saturday. Her status won't be known until after a medical evaluation. She has diagnostic tests scheduled for Monday.
"I'm very proud of our team," Schutzler said. "We haven't been at the top of our game. We've been close, but we haven't been at the top so just battling through these pressure situations it's always great to have a win. It's great to have underclassmen stepping up in leadership spots. I'm really happy about our performance this weekend."
HAWAIIAN CONNECTION: Anita Manuma is not the only player on Tennessee's roster that hails from Hawaii. Sophomore shortstop Liane Horiuchi is from Wahiawa and went to Kamehameha School. Manuma is from Ewa Beach and went to James Campbell High School. The two played ball together in youth leagues.
Manuma thought she was going to Hawaii, which offered her a scholarship, but she decided to take a recruiting visit to Tennessee in September 2005. She went to a football game at Neyland Stadium against Ole Miss and met two Vol football players who were from Hawaii.
"I wanted to stay home to be with my sisters and have three sisters playing on the softball team, but when I came on my recruiting trip … Ralph and Karen, they're awesome coaches so I took that as an opportunity, not only for me, but to let everybody know in the NCAA and the SEC that we do have talent back at home," Manuma said.
So she decided to join Horiuchi at Tennessee.
"We wanted to help Tennessee win games and hopefully win the national championship," Manuma said.
Manuma is at ease with Ralph Weekly's coaching style – he doesn't hesitate to raise his voice sometimes – and said it's something she's accustomed to in sports.
"I think a lot of the girls we had coaches that would yell at us so we're used to that," Manuma said. "We don't use that as a negative thing. We use that as a positive thing. When Ralph yells at me I don't think that he's (mad). I just know if he's yelling at me, than he has a lot of confidence in me."
Weekly hollered at her Sunday to move up in the batter's box. Manuma hit a double with her next swing.
"Thank you, Ralph," Manuma said.
Manuma also had a putout in rightfield against Winthrop and nearly had two when she fired a throw to first in the first inning with the speedy Tessa Thomas running. Thomas lined a shot to right, and Manuma caught it on the bounce and threw to first in stride.
"We had a team meeting about Indie going down and somebody stepping up," Manuma said. "I took that to heart that even though I'm a freshman, I can do it. Ralph and Karen put me in there, there's my chance to be somebody. Today, since I was starting, I thought this is my chance to step up for Indie."
Manuma learned she was starting "right before the game," she said. "They had confidence in me, and I used that as a positive thing. This is my chance to actually shine."
Ralph Weekly was pleased with Manuma's performance after the game.
"It was fantastic," Weekly said. "The thing about Anita is when we recruited her we knew she was a really strong hitter. But she didn't get in school until December so she missed the whole fall. Where she's gotten from there has been tremendous. I trust her, and I think she's going to be a big star for us in the future."
SENIOR LEADER: Senior centerfielder Lindsay Schutzler moved into the leadoff spot with the loss of India Chiles. She was 2-4, walked once and scored a run.
"It is a little bit of a different mindset," Schutzler said. "When I'm batting third I'm using my hitting a lot more, hitting for power more often. But I use my short game a lot when I'm hitting third so I've been doing it all year. So I feel as comfortable with my short game as I do with my hitting right now."
The team met Saturday night to talk about how to respond to the late season loss of a key player.
"In my experience with Tennessee we've had countless injuries during different times of the season," Schutzler said. "I felt for Indie and I hated to see her go down, but we can't really afford to blink an eye at this point in the season. We have to expect somebody to step up in her spot. I think today with some big performances from some freshmen that gives us a lot of confidence going into next weekend, whether we have or we don't have India."
Schutzler, a psychology major, graduated this month. With the spring semester over and with degree in hand she can focus solely on softball.
"It's great knowing I'm done with school and don't have any of that to worry about, just strictly softball," Schutzler said. "It's even better that I'm done. I'm just enjoying this before I move on to my next phase of life."
For Schutzler that will be playing professionally in Chicago and then trying out for the Olympic team. She intends to go to graduate school – she wants to eventually coach – but that will wait until next spring.
For now, "I'm trying to enjoy what's left of this season and my teammates while we're together," she said.
Schutzler had one of the best plays of the regional when she bowled over North Carolina's catcher to score on a shallow sacrifice fly in the 2-0 win Saturday, when runs were crucial and hard to come by. Schutzler is small and quick and doesn't have the heft of a power hitter, but she didn't back off in the collision at home plate – some photos of which were posted on the Lady Vols' web site in the photo gallery from the game at www.utladyvols.com.
"I'm a competitor, and I've taken catchers out before but a couple of weeks ago we were playing Alabama, I had an opportunity to take a catcher out, and I tried to go around her and I got thrown out," Schutzler said. "That really didn't sit well with me, and I told my team, ‘For the rest of the season nobody is going to block me off that plate. It's just not going to happen. I'm not getting out for going around somebody.'
"They like it when I go after somebody. It's just the mentality I have. I'm not a good loser, and so I'm going to do anything it takes to win."
ODDS AND ENDS
BEST APPLAUSE: That given to Lady Vol India Chiles before the game. She rode piggyback on a member of the medical staff to cross the field to get to the first base dugout with co-head Coach Karen Weekly carrying her crutches. The fans stood and applauded. They did so again when the Lady Vol team was introduced one by one before the game and lined up along the first base line.
Chiles, whose right knee was bandaged and iced, smiled and waved.
BEST CATCH: That of Tennessee's Kenora Posey, who entered the game at second base in the fourth inning. Two innings later she had the catch of the game when she slid under a ball well in foul territory to retire Lauren Blaser. The ball was tailing away from Posey, but she hustled from second and gloved the ball inches from the ground.
"That catch Posey made was phenomenal," Ralph Weekly said.
ANOTHER RECORD RUN: Monica Abbott holds a lot of Tennessee and national pitching records, but she's still chasing the single-season strikeout mark. Abbott has 629 Ks this season. The record of 663 was set in 2000 by Courtney Blades of Southern Miss, so Abbott is 35 punch-outs away from breaking it.
Abbott did surpass her own season high of 603 with her 42 strikeouts in the Knoxville Regional. If Tennessee keeps playing Abbott has an excellent shot of passing Blades.
BEST DOUBLE PLAY: Winthrop threatened in the first inning when Tessa Thomas singled to lead off. The next batter struck out swinging for the first out. Thomas attempted to steal second with the third batter up, but she struck out, and Shannon Doepking threw out Thomas with Liane Horiuchi applying the tag for the strike 'em out-throw 'em out double play.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: That made by parents of some of the Winthrop players from Canada. A contingent of Eagles fans came to Knoxville, many of whom were family members of the players. The school's athletic director, Tom Hickman, also was at Sunday's game among the 628 total attendance.
SCHOOL SUPPORT: Football Coach Phillip Fulmer, whose daughter, Allison Fulmer, plays for the Lady Vols, was at Tyson Park and is often in attendance. Lady Vols basketball Coach Pat Summitt attended and was immediately spotted by autograph seekers when she sat in the stands. Several UT athletes also were present, including men's basketball player Chris Lofton, and some football and baseball players.
BEST QUOTE:That of Ralph Weekly about Lindsay Schutzler.
"I've said many times that Lindsay is the catalyst for this team," Weekly said. "She's the best position player I've ever coached. I said the other day that (Tiffany) Huff had the opportunity to be that way, too. But Lindsay will do whatever the team needs her to do."
He then smiled and said that "may be play shortstop next week."
Not likely, since Liane Horiuchi went 2-3, scored twice, walked once and had three putouts.
"Funny," Schutzler said with a shake of her head.
Schutzler will, however, bat anywhere she needs to in the lineup, including leadoff.
"Stepping up in that spot it's not a big deal for me," she said. "It's a different mindset, but I'm ready for it. It's a little bit different. I'll bat anywhere in the lineup, and I'll be fine with it."