Monica Abbott (45-3) threw a no-hitter – the 22nd of her career and the second time to do so in NCAA postseason play – and only allowed three total base runners with two walks and a fielder's choice. She struck out the side in the first inning – Abbott had 10 for the game and now has 2,355 for her career – and that seemed to set the tone as the Wahine were no-hit for the first time this season.
It was a performance that left Tennessee co-head Coach Ralph Weekly smiling and praising his team in the post-game press conference.
"My hat's off to our team," Weekly said. "We challenged our players all week. We told them what kind of powerhouse Hawai'i was coming in here with. They worked hard and prepared, and tonight was a good night for the Lady Vols, but the tournament's certainly not over."
Game two will be played Saturday at 4 p.m. Eastern and will again be broadcast on ESPNU with radio coverage on "The Sports Animal." If necessary, game three is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. The winner of the three-game series moves on to the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Tennessee set the tone in the first inning when Lillian Hammond worked a walk and advanced to second by swiping the base. She shook off an inadvertent tag to the face that shook her up for a few seconds and then darted home when Callahan smacked the ball to the wall in right-center.
That ended up being the whole run that Abbott needed – an opponent has yet to score on Tennessee in NCAA postseason play – as she hit the corners inside and out, and the Rainbow Wahine hitters kept chasing her riseball.
The second inning unfolded perfectly for Tennessee. The speed players got on, and the power players brought them home.
Liane Horiuchi walked, stole second and made it to third on an error by Clare Warwick at third base off the bat of Kenora Posey, who beat the eventual throw to first. With two out – Anita Manuma and Lindsay Schutzler had grounded out – Lillian Hammond hit an infield chopper that Hawai'i shortstop Valana Manuma charged, but Hammond beat the throw to first, and Horiuchi scored.
Hawai'i pitcher Justine Smethurst had Huff down 0-2, but the freshman from Saugus, California, lined a high pitch into leftfield, and Posey and Hammond easily scored. Then Callahan singled to left, scoring Huff to make it 5-0. Callahan made it all the way to third after a throw by leftfielder Brandi Peiler back to the infield scooted past first base for the second error of the inning. Shannon Doepking popped up to end the inning. With two innings in the book, Smethurst had already thrown 61 pitches. Of Tennessee' five runs, only one was earned because of the errors.
The third inning passed quietly, but then Tennessee went back to work at the plate in the fourth inning and put up four more runs, all of them earned this time.
Posey reached safely by dropping a bunt, and Schutzler walked. Hammond hit the ball back to the circle, and Smethurst thought about going to third to get Posey, but her foot speed had her nearly at the bag. The hesitation allowed Hammond to reach safely before the throw reached first base.
With the bases loaded, Huff swatted a shot down the line that rightfielder Tanisha Milca dove for, but the ball eluded her and rolled to the fence.
"They hit the ball by our rightfielder, and our outfielder needs to know when to dive, when not to dive and that wasn't a dive situation when you knew if three runs came across the plate that was the ball game (because of the run rule), and that's what happened," Hawai'i Coach Bob Coolen said.
Huff ended up on third with the bases-clearing shot, and Coolen went to the bullpen for relief. Jessica Morton unleashed a wild pitch to bring Huff in and suddenly Tennessee was up 9-0 with the chance to run-rule the Wahine at the top of the fifth inning.
Callahan doubled to right-center, but was left there when Shannon Doepking flew out to center, Alexia Clay struck out looking, and Anita Manuma went down swinging.
Abbott recorded two strikeouts and a groundout, and the potent Hawai'i attack was not only neutralized in game one but the Wahine went down in five innings. Coolen said his team wouldn't be adversely affected by that.
"I tell my girls all the time if they are going to have a rule in the rule book that says you beat a team by eight-nothing, and you're off the field, we'll go for that eight-nothing run rule every single game," Coolen said. "The same mentality on the other side."
It was Abbott's first no-hitter in NCAA tourney play since she blanked the College of Charleston in 2005.
Weekly credited the scouting report on the Rainbow Wahine hitters to his wife, co-head Coach Karen Weekly, and Assistant Coach Marty McDaniel.
"All the credit there goes to Marty McDaniel, Karen Weekly and our pitching staff," Ralph Weekly said. "Karen probably spent 40 hours this week studying Hawai'i's game films. They sat down with the pitchers and Marty and they studied it, and we had a pretty good idea where to throw the ball and where not to throw it. And then it becomes up to the pitcher to put it there. There's nobody better than Karen in doing that, and that's key to a lot of our success. And, of course, no matter what she does it takes Monica to put the ball there."
Coolen said his players needed to not get caught in Abbott's web of climbing the ladder with ever-rising fastballs.
"She was just bringing the ball," Coolen said. I don't recall one changeup in five innings. She was just moving the ball up, up and more up. She brought the ball inside on our righties, outside on our lefties, and we weren't aggressive enough to hit the ball early. We were swinging late. That's why we got a lot of foul balls over the backstop. You can't do that with someone who throws that hard. You have to take it to them. You have to be more aggressive."
Coolen especially wants to see his team swing the bats better when the counts are in a hitter's favor.
"The hitters just need to be more aggressive at the plate," Coolen said. "They can't let that one pitch go by. She had a lot of 3-2 counts, and we have to know that she's going to bring it in there and we're swinging off-balance. We're not swinging level. We're not swinging with the ball out in front of us. We're waiting for the ball to get too deep in the batter's box and by the plate.
"Once she gets into a 3-2 situation or a 3-1 situation, you as a hitter need to be a lot more aggressive because she doesn't want to walk you and put anyone on base. So you just need to make sure you're prepared to swing a little bit harder, because she's not going to throw a changeup. That's not her M.O."
Meanwhile, Smethurst was getting some pitcher's counts but left the ball a little too much on the plate, and Tennessee's hitters took advantage, especially Callahan and Huff.
"She had some 0-2, 1-2 counts where she made too many good pitches," Coolen said. "Once you get 0-2, 1-2 as a pitcher, you can't put the ball anywhere near the plate, and they were hitting those pitches. You have to be a better pitcher. You have to make sure you go out of the strike zone.
"You always talk to your pitchers about making sure you're not near any part of the white or the black on 0-2, 1-2, and they were hitting opposite field. The pitchers weren't far enough outside the zone, and that caused us a lot of headaches."
Callahan was 3-3 with two doubles and two RBI. Huff was 2-3 with a double, triple and five RBIs.
"I've been working a lot on keeping my weight back; that was my biggest problem at the beginning of the year," Callahan said. "I think I've worked pretty hard on making that adjustment, but lately I've been seeing the ball really well and getting my pitches up there and not being so anxious. Just being patient. I think that has been a big key."
Huff had left six runners on base in the last game against Winthrop, and that remained on her mind.
"That was definitely on my mind," Huff said. "I flashed back to that series and came out with a different plan today, to get my pitch and drive it. Against Winthrop I was swinging at the low balls, but today I was looking for something a little higher."
That brought a chuckle from Ralph Weekly, because he had told her to lay off a high pitch. She laced the next one, also up in the zone, to leftfield for a double and two RBI.
"Oh my gosh," said fellow freshman Anita Manuma of Huff's night at the plate. "She's been practicing really hard. She got the job done. She was hungry. Tiffany did awesome tonight. She has confidence at the plate, and it gives me confidence to believe in her that she will get the job done. It doesn't matter that she left runs last game, because we knew that she would still pull through, so good job for her."
Smethurst agreed with her coach about her pitch selection, and she also pointed to her walks that ended up hurting the team.
"I let a few too many walks get on first base and when that happens they were able to move their runners around a little too easily," said Smethurst, who hails from Victoria, Australia. "As coach said, I should have been smarter on my 0-2 pitches. When I threw it out of the zone, they didn't chase, and I think I didn't give myself the opportunity to let them chase so I kind of run myself into a bit of a rut. When I was able to make them chase, that's when I was a bit better."
Tennessee had watched film and thought its team speed was an asset against the Wahine. The walks and singles were usually followed by base thefts.
"We thought that our speed game would be very effective against their defense, and we really challenged this week Posey and Hammond to step up and try to fill (India Chiles') shoes," Weekly said. "They did a great job tonight. I was really proud of Posey and Hammond. What was exciting about tonight, too, is we only had one senior on the field besides Monica. We only had one senior in the batting order. The rest of them were young players, and I think that tells the future of Tennessee softball and the strength of our freshman."
Those freshmen include Manuma, who enjoyed a family reunion at Tyson Park. Her sister, Valana Manama, is the starting shortstop for Hawai'i. Their parents, Viavia and Katie Manuma, attended the game and wore orange Tennessee shirts and green Hawai'i hats.
"We just talked about our mom and dad coming in and how happy we were to see them," Valana Manuma said. "We didn't really talk about the game. All she told me was good luck and do your best out there. (After the game), we just kissed each other hi."
It was the first time that Anita Manuma's mother had been to Knoxville and the first time she had seen her daughter play. Manuma's father had accompanied her on the recruiting trip to Tennessee and had watched her play in a tournament in Las Vegas this season.
Anita Manuma couldn't help but steal a glance at the shortstop when she got in the batter's box.
"I did glance a couple of times because she was looking at me as well," Manuma said. "It was kind of hard not to look that way."
Manuma was glad to get the first game out of the way and even happier with the win.
"It's a relief," she said. "I'm just trying to visualize that Hawai'i is just one of the other opponents that we've been playing all season. But after the game when we were shaking hands and kissing everybody, that is when all the emotions come out and all the love."
Tennessee now has to both ride the momentum of the win and not forget the fact that at least one more game remains. One key for the Lady Vols is getting on the scoreboard fast.
"That's always our motto, ‘early and often,' " Callahan said. "I think tonight we were ready to come out and play, and we knew that we hadn't shown our stuff last weekend, and we kind of wanted to show them what we were made of this week. I think that we did a very good job of that tonight, being selective up there and getting our pitches."
Hawai'i has to solve the puzzle that is Abbott or face elimination in the postseason.
"It was her riseball," Valana Manuma said of the team's offensive struggles. "We were chasing her bad pitches, and we've got to learn how to lay off of it, at some point. We have to be aggressive at the plate and come out swinging. We've got to make our adjustments."
Manuma couldn't help but smile when she said "at some point," because she knows time is not on the Wahine's side.
Abbott has been locked in so far this postseason and after the game she zeroed in on what remains to be done. She also credited her teammates.
"I think Hawai'i is a very good team," Abbott said. "Their offense is definitely very strong. They get up there and swing the bat. I knew I could come in tonight, throw my pitches and throw my game, and give our team a chance to put some runs on the board. That's what they did tonight so hats off to the offense tonight.
"I think, right now, we have to come out ready to play. We expect them to come out fighting tomorrow. Right now I just need to focus on getting ready for tomorrow."
Those last three sentences were Abbott's reply when asked about her no-hitter. She didn't want to talk about it. She wanted to discuss being prepared for Saturday's game. Abbott is expected to take the circle for Tennessee. Coolen said he would start Kate Robinson in the circle, as previously planned.
Weekly quickly endorsed Abbott's line of thinking when he was asked if he expected Tennessee to remain un-scored upon this deep in the NCAA tourney.
"No, I didn't, and I'll knock on wood on that," he said as he rapped the table. "I just want to echo what Monica said. I believed Hawai'i was very good coming in, I still believe they're very good, and I think that we're going to battle 'til it's over."
The Lady Vols' intention is to start Saturday's game where they left off Friday night.
"That's a good momentum to hold onto," Callahan said. "There is nothing to get down about that. We played very well as a team tonight. You've got to come out and have the same attitude."
The coaches will try to make sure that Tennessee's players not only zero in on that mindset but also keep their heads about them.
"We will be talking to them through the rest of the evening: You have to respect your opponent, and if you come out with any kind of cockiness at all, you could be in trouble," Weekly said. "And that's not our style. Tennessee's style is: ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick.' That's always been our style."
ODDS AND ENDS
ROAD WEARY: The Rainbow Wahine has been on the road for three weeks and dealt with various traffic detours and flight issues in their journey from the WAC Tournament in Fresno to the Los Angeles Regional to Knoxville. But to their credit, Coach Bob Coolen refused to use that as an explanation for Friday's game when road fatigue could be a legitimate issue.
"We're not going to make excuses," he said. We've been on the mainland for a while. We're used to traveling, and it's not an excuse. It's just a matter of two good teams were on the field and Tennessee turned out to be the better team."
His opening comments were just as forthright: "I think the score says it all. We didn't hit our stride. We faced a very good team tonight who basically hit the ball when we made some mistakes. Obviously, we couldn't hit Monica or couldn't solve the riddle on the mound. There's no way to emulate her. She did a nice job of keeping us off balance, and we let too many good strikes go by. We need to be a little bit more aggressive."
BEST LINEUP DECISION: Deciding to move Lady Vol Lillian Hammond into the second spot in the batting order. The decision came down to Hammond or fellow speedster Kenora Posey to try to replace the bat and speed lost when leadoff hitter India Chiles went down with a knee injury.
"We were thinking about that all day long," Ralph Weekly said. "Who could be most effective in that two slot? And because of Hammond's power slapping, we decided as a coaching staff to go with Hammond in the two slot. … Hammond has great size to go along with that speed, and I think that as she develops she's going to be awesome, because she can hit the ball to the fence. That's a good thing to have."
Hammond was 1-2 from the plate, walked once and scored three runs. She was responsible for the breakout second inning when she safely reached first by running out a ground ball to short with two out. Her hustle scored a runner from third and kept the inning alive. Huff followed with the double to left to score two more runners, and she later scored, too.
"Made us look like a genius," Weekly said. "I hope it works (Saturday)."
BEST REFLEXES: Those of the photographers who perch atop the dugouts during the game. A screaming foul ball split two of them on top of Tennessee's dugout, and they deftly leaned out of the way while holding onto their cameras.
BEST SEATS: Those of several Knoxville firefighters who get to staff the fire truck that is parked just beyond the centerfield wall. Emergency personnel and medical crews are on hand for the games, and the firefighters stood atop the engine truck and had a clear view across the entire field.
DRIVE-BY SUPPORT: A few large rigs let loose with a short bursts from their horns during the game and were acknowledged by the crowd. Southbound U.S. Highway 129 runs just past the outfield and well above playing level.
BEST SMILE: That of senior centerfielder India Chiles in the Lady Vols' dugout. Chiles wore her uniform, a large brace on her right knee and regular shoes instead of cleats. Chiles is out for this series because of a torn ACL, but she is rehabbing in an attempt to be able to play in some capacity should Tennessee make it to the WCWS.
BEST SPIRIT: That of the small contingent of Hawai'i fans who waved large green tealeaves during the game. The leaves are a symbol of good luck and are used in blessings.
BEST GESTURE: That of Hawai'i natives J.T. Mapu, a UT football player, and Jesse Mahelona, a former Vol who now plays for the Tennessee Titans. The two passed out colorful leis to the members of both teams after the game, and the players wore them at the post-game press conferences.
Anita Manuma said it is custom in Hawai'i "if it's a big game or an important game."
"Hawaiians are very giving people," Ralph Weekly said. "They're warriors, and they'll be back to fight, but they're good people, too. It's kind of different playing against a team that has mutual respect than playing against some teams we play against."
He then smiled and added, "That's all I need to say."
BEST SHOW OF EMOTION: Ralph Weekly when asked about Monica Abbott's performance.
"I sat out there tonight and thought how blessed I am to have coached Monica Abbott and how great of a pitcher she is," said Weekly, who was visibly emotional. "So I think that's says the way I feel about her."
Abbott looked at her coach and then looked out at the gathering of print and Internet media – with their tape recorders running on the table – and asked, "Can we get a camera?"
"They got it on tape," Weekly said with a smile.