Tennessee stayed in the winner's bracket and earned a crucial day of rest for the rest of Saturday. The Lady Vols will wait to see who emerges from the loser's bracket among Northwestern, Texas A&M and Baylor for its next opponent Sunday. Game time for Tennessee is 3 p.m. Eastern with ESPN/HD to broadcast the matchup.
Baylor and Texas A&M will play at 2 p.m. Eastern on Saturday with the winner facing Northwestern at 9 p.m. Eastern. The winner of that game will play the Lady Vols on Sunday and would have to beat Tennessee twice to knock out the Lady Vols.
Arizona (45-13-1), the defending national champion, fell into the loser's bracket with Arizona State and DePaul, which will fight for the right to play Washington on Sunday on the other side of the winner's bracket.
Abbott permitted six hits against a rugged Arizona lineup and walked three, but countered that by striking out 16 hitters while managing to escape two bases-loaded jams in recording her 27th solo shutout of 2007. The Salinas, Calif., native now sits just three Ks from becoming the first pitcher in NCAA history to achieve 2,400 career strikeouts.
The Orange & White offense managed just two hits, both by senior India Chiles – who is playing with a torn ACL and a busted shoulder – but took advantage of a crucial fielding error on the Wildcats in the bottom of the sixth to plate the game's lone run.
"Well this is where you want to be, and it really does not matter how you get there," Lady Vol co-head coach Karen Weekly said. "Arizona is a very tough team, and they played a fantastic game. Taryne Mowatt pitched a great, great game. You had two pitchers out there battling, battling and battling, and I can not say enough about Monica Abbott keeping us in the game and getting out of jams and putting us on her back tonight."
Arizona, the top seed in the Women's College World Series, managed to get runners on base in scoring position – including with the bases loaded with one out – but each time Abbott pitched out of jams. She also had some solid defense behind her with shortstop Liane Horiuchi making a diving catch of a short pop-up that she snared in front of second base.
Anytime Abbott got in trouble she pitched her way out of it, including getting some key strikeouts with runners 60 feet away from home plate. She finished with 16 Ks for the second straight game in the WCWS.
Tennessee managed its lone run in the sixth inning when senior Lindsey Schutzler scored on a fielding error. Prior to that, Tennessee had runners on first and second when India Chiles chopped a ball into short centerfield, but Horiuchi was cut down at home on a perfect throw for the second out. Schutzler hustled to third from first on the play.
The next batter, freshman Tiffany Huff, hit a grounder to second baseman Chelsie Mesa for what appeared to be a routine ground-out and the inning's third out, but Mesa mishandled the ball, and Huff was safe at first before the throw arrived. Schutzler scored from third on the play.
Arizona's Taryne Mowatt allowed two hits and struck out 10 for Arizona in what was a pitcher's duel throughout. The game was delayed 2 hours and 47 minutes because of thunderstorms and didn't start until nearly midnight local time.
Arizona speedster Caitlin Lowe led off the highly anticipated contest by barely beating out an infield hit back to the circle. During Mesa's at-bat, Lowe took off for second but was called out for leaving first base early to wipe the base paths clean. Abbott battled out of a 3-0 hole to strike out Mesa. Wildcat shortstop Kristie Fox drew a free pass to reach base, but was left stranded, as third baseman Jenae Leles became Abbott's second K victim of the inning.
Huff became Tennessee's first base runner with two down in the bottom of the first frame by reaching on a free pass issued by Mowatt. Tonya Callahan stepped into the batter's box and ripped a long drive that easily cleared the wall in deep left. Unfortunately the shot drifted just wide of the foul pole to go down as nothing but an extremely long strike.
Mowatt came back immediately with a 2-2 change-up to strike out the Holden, Mo., native – who mentions in her ESPN player intro that she had a pet billy goat as a child – and end the first frame with no scoring.
Tennessee's 6'3 lefthander settled in during the top of the second by striking out the side for the 114th time during her 2007 campaign. Catcher Callista Balko, first baseman Laine Roth and designated player Sam Banister each went down on strikes to up Abbott's count to five Ks through two innings of work.
After a one-two-three second inning for the Big Orange, Arizona left fielder K'Lee Arredondo singled through the left side of the infield to christen the top of the third. Rightfielder Adrienne Acton went down swinging to record Abbott's sixth strikeout and mark an important initial retirement of the frame. With a 0-2 count Abbott delivered a ball wide of the plate and, with no one covering second, Arredondo pulled off a delayed steal of second to reach scoring position. Lowe came through with a base knock just over a leaping Posey at second and into right-center field to set the situation at runners at the corners with one down.
Facing a big-time Wildcat threat, Abbott managed to punch out Mesa for the second time. With a bag open, co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly chose to intentionally walk the power-hitting Fox to load the bases for Leles. The move paid dividends as UT's four-time NFCA All-American struck out Leles swinging at a rise ball to escape a huge jam and leave three Wildcats stranded.
"I just stuck with the game plan," Abbott said. "The coaches decided to intentionally walk some batters so I just had to trust them and go with what they were going for. I had to stick to my game plan and throw my pitches. I knew I had a great defense behind me and that we would get it done."
In the top of the fourth, Abbott struck out Balko and Roth to improve her total to 10 Ks through four innings. Horiuchi made a spectacular play to end the frame by racing over from her defensive position and diving parallel to the infield dirt to corral a little blooper on the fly, out in front of second base, to retire the Wildcats.
Chiles tried to get the Lady Vol attack started in the bottom of the fourth with a clean single up the middle into centerfield to register Tennessee's initial hit. Huff attempted to sacrifice bunt the runner over to second but popped the orb up to Mowatt in the circle, and she doubled off Chiles easily at the first base bag. That killed any offensive momentum for the Big Orange as Callahan ended the inning by becoming Mowatt's sixth strikeout victim.
Arredondo, Acton and Lowe each swung and missed at strike three in the top of the fifth to go down as strikeout victims 11, 12 and 13 for Abbott. With those three Ks, Abbott climbed within six Ks of the 2,400-punchout mark.
Abbott had retired eight in a row with six strikeouts before Fox singled to centerfield with one out in the top of the sixth. On a perfectly executed hit-and-run play, Leles ripped an offering through the right side of the infield allowing Fox to race all the way to third. The Tennessee coaching staff decided to intentionally walk Balko to load the bases and set up the force situation at every base.
UT's pitcher managed to coax an infield pop-up that Posey squeezed for a very important second out. Teetering on the edge of disaster once again, Abbott struck out Banister to escape the bases-loaded situation for the third time in the WCWS and for the second time in the game against Arizona.
Facing a 3-2 count to open the bottom of the sixth, Horiuchi managed to lay off a tough rise ball from Mowatt to post a lead-off walk. Posey attempted to get the sacrifice bunt down, but failed and went down swinging to become the first out of the inning. Schutzler coaxed a free pass to place two on with Chiles coming to the dish with a chance to re-enact her heroics of Thursday against Texas A&M.
She came through in the clutch situation by lacing a bouncing single up the middle. Unfortunately for the Orange & White, Arizona's All-American center fielder Lowe corralled the ball on the run, came up throwing and managed to cut down Horiuchi at the plate to prevent the first run of the game from scoring.
With two outs in the frame and runners residing at second and third, Huff grounded a routine ball to second base that Mesa bobbled for an error, allowing Schutzler to race home for a 1-0 Lady Vol advantage. Callahan struck out to end the frame, but the fielding miscue brought Tennessee within three outs of moving to a perfect 2-0 in the winner's bracket at the WCWS for the first time in program history.
"I think we just pulled together in our huddle," Schutzler said. "We have worked hard on having good huddles. We told each other that Monica is pitching an awesome game, and we had a good spot in our lineup coming up and wanted to make something happen.
"The bats had not been great all game so we just pulled together and said, 'Look we just need to relax and have fun and focus and get this done.' "
Down to their final chance in regulation, Arredondo started off the top of the seventh by becoming Abbott's 15th strikeout victim. Acton dropped a slow roller up the third base line that Callahan was forced to rush while attempting to make a play. Her throw drifted wide of the bag, but would have been late anyway as Acton was awarded a single to grant the Wildcats a glimmer of hope. Lowe came to the plate with a chance to register a clutch hit but lined out to Horiuchi at short. Acton managed to steal second, but the advance amounted to little as Abbott struck out Mesa swinging to secure the contest and give Tennessee Saturday off to rest.
Due to a lengthy rain delay, the matchup against the Wildcats started at 11:23 p.m. CT, two minutes later than last year's late nighter against No. 1 UCLA and three hours and 23 minutes after the originally scheduled start time of 8 p.m. CT. By finishing at 1:28 a.m. CT, the contest marked the second-latest foray into the night for the Lady Vols in its three-year history at the WCWS.
In 2005 Tennessee's 11-inning marathon win over No. 1 Michigan ended at 1:21 a.m. CT, while a 2006 triumph over No. 1 UCLA concluded at 2:01 a.m. CT. UT is now 3-0 in its late-night affairs at the Women's College World Series.
"We're just happy to have the day off," Karen Weekly said. "We have not been in this position before. This is the first time. The first two years we lost this game and had to come back and play the next day. We talked last night about how important it was to win this game to have that day off, and be able to come into Sunday having to win one game."