The Lady Vols got seven hits to the Wildcats' four, but couldn't come up with the clutch hit needed to secure a run to back senior hurler Monica Abbott's 11-strikeout, four-hitter in the circle.
Senior leftfielder India Chiles (2-for-5) and junior second baseman Kenora Posey (2-for-4) each recorded a pair of hits to lead the offense, while senior centerfielder Lindsay Schutzler (1-for-4), junior catcher Shannon Doepking (1-for-3) and freshman designated player Alexia Clay (1-for-5) got one apiece.
Despite taking the difficult defeat in the circle after allowing just one unearned run to fall to 50-4 on the season, Abbott did manage to break the WCWS record for most strikeouts in a single year - 64 set in 2006 - that was formerly held by Arizona's Alicia Hollowell. The Orange & White's Salinas, Calif., product now possesses 68 Ks over five games at this year's event and maintains her 0.00 ERA at the WCWS.
"Well that was frustrating," Co-head Coach Karen Weekly said. "We did have a lot of opportunities. In some ways tonight's game reminded me of the first game against Arizona on Friday night where they had more opportunities than we did and never could push it across. We certainly had our opportunities tonight and just could not capitalize when we needed to."
Abbott proved she was ready to go again from the circle by striking out center fielder Caitlin Lowe, left fielder K'Lee Arredondo and shortstop Kristie Fox in order in the top of the first to K the side for the 122nd time this season.
Chiles attempted to lead off the first with another big hit but her hard liner to center was tracked down on the run on a solid back-handed play in mid-center field by Arizona All-American Caitlin Lowe. Schutzler grounded out to third and Huff went down on strikes as both hurlers exerted their dominance over the proceedings during the opening frame.
Wildcat third baseman Jenae Leles opened the top of the second by drawing a lead-off walk. Arizona second baseman Chelsie Mesa was called upon to drop the sacrifice bunt, but she popped up the bunt to the left of home plate and Doepking squeezed the ball for the out. First baseman Sam Banister battled Abbott before singling through the left side of the infield to put two runners aboard with just one down. UT's hurler rebounded to record a strikeout against freshman designated player Sarah Akamine.
Catcher Callista Balko got ahead 2-1 and then worked to a full count at 3-2 before Abbott delivered an outside offering that forced the hitter to chase a pitch for a strikeout to retire the side and leave a pair stranded.
With one down in the bottom of the second, Doepking managed a walk against Arizona's Taryne Mowatt to grant the Lady Vols their initial base runner. Clay continued her impressive WCWS performance by blooping a base knock in front of a charging Lowe in left-center to place two on base with one down. Unfortunately for the Big Orange, sophomores Jennifer Griffin and Liane Horiuchi each struck out to strand a pair and maintain the scoreless deadlock.
Chiles dropped a one-out bunt out in front of the dish and the ball collided with her discarded bat just out in front of the plate. The event caused some discussion between the umpiring crew before the group ruled the play a single. Schutzler hammered a shot to centerfield, but not deep enough to cause Lowe any problems as she hauled it in for the inning's second out. Huff got ahead of Mowatt 3-0, before the Wildcat pitcher battled back with several solid pitches to make the Saugus, Calif., native her fourth strikeout victim to retire the side and strand Tennessee's third base runner of the contest.
Fox christened the top of the fourth by ripping a sharp liner that threatened the gap in left center, but a leaping Horiuchi snagged the sphere at shortstop in a "web-gem" style play as it attempted to go over her head for out number one. Leles K'ed before Mesa blooped a Texas-leaguer over the head of Posey and into right for a two-out single. Posey handled a routine grounder off the bat of Banister to conclude the frame.
Tennessee got its lead-off runner aboard in the bottom of the fourth as junior first baseman Tonya Callahan drew her team-leading 38th walk of the season. Doepking dropped a potential sacrifice bunt back to Mowatt in the circle, but the pitcher corralled the orb, turned and threw a strike to second in an attempt to catch the lead runner. Hammond beat the throw to place two runners on the bags with no one down. Clay hit a sharp grounder to Leles at third, who made the grab, touched to force the lead runner and threw across the diamond to catch Clay for a vital double play. Griffin grounded out routinely to third to end what had been a promising inning for the Lady Vol offense.
Arizona's Balko K'ed with one down in the top of the fifth as Abbott equaled the all-time single WCWS record of 64 strikeouts established by Hollowell during the Wildcats title run in 2006. Rightfielder Adrienne Acton grounded sharply to Lady Vol third baseman Griffin to continue the pitcher's duel.
Mowatt walked the Lady Vols' lead-off batter for the second consecutive frame to christen the bottom of the fifth as Horiuchi drew a free pass. Posey beat out a bunt single that checked-up in front of the plate, and Chiles delivered a high chopper into the hole at deep short for a single to load the bases with none retired. Schutzler grounded back to the circle as Mowatt threw home to record the fielder's choice.
That's when the Arizona defense made the two biggest plays to that point in the contest to kill another potentially fruitful inning for the Big Orange. Consecutive bloopers to right and left center by Huff and Callahan, respectively, were caught in over-the-shoulder running grabs by Mesa and Fox as Tennessee's runner-left-stranded stat rose to seven through five complete.
"I just had to stay calm and tried not to get worked up about it," Mowatt said. "There were no outs and the bases were loaded, and they probably had their best three hitters up to bat. I hit my spots and I thought I jammed the last two batters. Chelsie (Mesa) and (Kristie) Fox got really good jumps on the balls behind them and were able to catch them. It was an exciting inning and it got us fired up a little bit."
Thankfully for the Orange & White offense, Abbott continued her amazing performance from the circle with another one-two-three inning in the top of the sixth. Lowe fouled out on a bunt to Doepking to the left of home plate, Arredondo popped up to Callahan at first and Fox was retired swinging as Abbott broke the WCWS record for Ks in a single year with 65.
In the seventh frame, UT's pitcher retired Leles and Mesa for a pair of quick outs, but issued a two out walk to Banister to bestow the Wildcats a chance. The free pass didn't matter as Abbott struck out Akamine to register the 125th double-digit strikeout performance of her illustrious career.
Down to their last chance in regulation Posey bunted a tough ball out in front of the plate, but Mowatt made a super play to just throw her out at first. Chiles looked at strike three for the second out, but Schutzler drilled a single into right center to bring Huff to the dish with a chance to register the biggest hit of her brief career. She got ahead of Arizona's hurler 3-0 before drawing a free pass to place runners at first and second with two down and the power-hitting Callahan stepping into the batter's box.
The Holden, Mo, native just missed a pitch and lifted a fly ball to leftfield that Arredondo squeezed for the third out to send the teams to extra frames.
UT entered play a perfect 4-0 this season in extra-inning contests and 2-0 all-time in extras at the WCWS.
Balko opened the top of the eighth by getting ahead of Abbott 3-0 before the 6'3 lefty rebounded to induce a foul pop-up that Doepking squeezed just off the plate for the first retirement. Acton grounded out to third as Griffin made a strong throw to first, and Lowe struck out for the second time in the contest to give UT another chance to end the match-up via walk-off.
Doepking took Mowatt's 1-0 pitch the other way to rightfield for a lead-off single in the bottom of the eighth to give UT a vital base runner. Clay was asked to drop the sacrifice bunt, but she popped up the bunt to Balko behind the dish for the first out. That play undercut the offense as Griffin went down looking, and Horiuchi checked her swing and rolled a dribbler out in front of the plate that Balko picked up before throwing on to first to end the eighth.
Fox drilled a one-out base hit deep into the hole at short to give the Wildcats another base occupant against Abbott in the top of the ninth. Fox grounded a sharp shot down to third allowing Griffin the time to make the play on the lead runner at second base. Mesa concluded the frame by popping out to Posey at second.
Posey opened the bottom of the ninth with a base knock through the right side of the infield. During Chiles' strikeout by Mowatt, Posey swiped her 28th base of the campaign to reach scoring position. Huff gave a ball a ride, but flew out to centerfield for the second retirement. Callahan looked at strike three to end the inning and leave two more stranded to up Tennessee's total to 13 through nine innings.
Banister opened the top of the 10th with a bloop single into leftfield against Abbott to record consecutive multi-hit games for the first time all season. Akamine did something that neither team has seen much success with by dropping a sacrifice bunt to move Banister into scoring position at second with one out. Balko laid down a bunt that Doepking raced out from behind the plate to scoop. Her throw appeared good and in time for the force, but the orb was dropped at first for an error to grant the Wildcats runners at the corners with one down.
The miscue proved vital as a grounder by Acton to short was corralled on the run by Horiuchi. The Wahiawa, Hawai'i, native made a strong throw to the plate, but Doepking's tag was just late as pinch runner Danielle Rodriguez slid around the tag and appeared to just nick the plate with her left hand for a 1-0 lead.
"We knew before the play started that she was going," Doepking said. "She was going off hard anyway. When she came I thought I had her. I guess the umpire saw something different. But no matter what that was not what lost the game. We could not bring the run across when we had runners in scoring position."
Rodriguez said, "Right when I got to third base, Coach (Mike Candrea) told me if it is on the ground you are going and you need to get the best jump of your life. I knew that all game Adrienne (Acton) was hitting the ball on the ground so I was expecting her to do it again. I just tried to run as fast as I could."
As far as how much of her hand touched home plate, Rodriguez knew it was close.
"Luckily I have long fingers, so probably about an inch," she said. "I felt it with my left hand."
Down to their last chance to keep the matchup going, Clay gave the Lady Vol offense some semblance of life by reaching on a one-out throwing error by shortstop Fox. As had been the theme all night for UT, the big hit wouldn't materialize as freshman pinch hitter Anita Manuma struck out and Horiuchi hit into a fielder's choice to force game three on Wednesday night with the national title on the line.
Candrea said, "This was a very exciting game to say the least. I really felt that in a game like that you have to match them pitch for pitch. We needed to hang in there and get an opportunity, and we finally had one and made something happen. It was an outstanding game.
"You feel good tonight, but the tough thing is you have to get ready for tomorrow because that is what it is all about. We are not going to do any celebrating. We feel we are where we wanted to be. At the beginning of the year I told this team our goal is to play the last game of the season, and we are there right now. Tomorrow we need to bring our best game we have ever played. We need to go out and have fun and trust ourselves."
The Lady Vols have to get ready, too. After Tennessee clinched the SEC regular season against Alabama, Athletics Director Joan Cronan noted how proud she was of the team and added that she wanted the Lady Vols to be playing in the title game of the WCWS. They will be, and Cronan is on hand to see it in Oklahoma City.
"Well we're obviously disappointed with the loss but we don't have time to cry about it because it wasn't the last game of the season," Karen Weekly said. "We have another game tomorrow. We're tied one to one and tomorrow is for the national championship. We told the kids to get your heads up. We have to rebound and get ready to go tomorrow."