Softball perfect at Classic

Senior designated player Shannon Doepking contributed three RBI and freshman pitcher Ashton Ward was again outstanding in the circle for No. 5 UT (14-1) as the Big Orange completed their undefeated run through the Tennessee Classic on Sunday at Lee Softball Stadium with a 5-1 victory over Virginia.

Doepking led the offense with a 2-for-3, three-RBI effort to raise her weekend average to an incredible .636. Freshman first baseman Jen Lapicki (.333, seven RBIs at the Tenn. Classic) and rookie second baseman Chandra Mogan each posted an RBI and run scored as part of a 1-for-2 performance versus the Cavs.

Ward improved to 9-1 on the season after working six innings of four-hit ball while allowing one run and striking out seven. Senior Megan Rhodes entered in relief in the seventh and worked a perfect inning with a K.

"For the second day in a row, I thought we left too many runners in scoring position," Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "In my mind as a hitting coach, the only important statistic is RBIs. We need to work better at bringing our base runners in to score.

"I thought Ashton Ward pitched well for six innings, and Megan Rhodes did well coming in for us in relief during the seventh inning. Shannon Doepking continues to be a great RBI producer for our offense."

Over five games at the Tennessee Classic, the Big Orange outscored their opponents by a 39-3 count, while hitting .355 as a team to go along with eight doubles, three home runs and 37 RBI. UT's pitching staff limited the opposition to a .125 batting average and tallied a miniscule 0.68 ERA in 31.0 innings of work.

Ward was 3-0 with 19 Ks and a 1.17 ERA over 18 innings of work. Rhodes went 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 16 Ks in 11 frames.

A sterling defensive play keyed the top of the first for the Lady Vol defense. With a Virginia runner on first following a leadoff walk, Cavalier shortstop Carly Winger popped up a bunt. Lapicki raced in from her defensive position at first and made a diving grab of the ball, before turning and throwing to Mogan covering the bag to double off center fielder Meghan O'Leary. UVA's Lindsey Preuss flew out to deep left to end the frame.

In the bottom of the first, an error committed by Virginia's shortstop Carly Winger on a ground ball from Mogan opened the door for the Tennessee offense to tally first on the Lee Stadium scoreboard. With the UT runner occupying first, senior third baseman Tonya Callahan delivered a single to right field to place runners at the corners with just one retired.

That brought Doepking to the dish in another RBI situation and the Acton, Calif., native came through again. She grounded a ball back through the circle that ricocheted directly off the second base bag for a single bringing across Mogan for a 1-0 advantage. The hit also extended Doepking's hitting streak to five games.

The Big Orange lead continued to grow in the bottom of the second as a leadoff single to right by sophomore center fielder Anita Manuma followed by a hard double into the left field corner by Lapicki brought UT's second run across. A pair of groundouts advanced the base occupant within 60 feet of paydirt.

Mogan hit a ball off the end of her bat that checked up as it rolled slowly toward third. UVA's Abby Snyder came up with the orb and decided to attempt to conclude the frame by retiring the speedy Mogan at first. It proved to be the wrong decision as she beat the toss to first for a single, with Lapicki scoring for a 3-0 lead.

While the Tennessee offense was taking care of business on the scoreboard, Ward was handling things in the circle. The Charlotte, N.C., product retired nine of the first 10 Virginia batters she faced with three strikeouts.

In the top of the fourth an error committed by the Tennessee infield on a grounder off the bat of Winger granted the Cavs a lead-off base runner. Following a fielder's choice for the initial out, designated player Kelly Haller singled to right field. On the play Winger rounded second with thoughts of venturing on to third, but she was caught in a lengthy rundown and tagged out by UT second baseman Nicole Kajitani. First baseman Lauren McCaskey popped out to Callahan at third to end the frame with no damage.

Lapicki led off the bottom of the fourth with a walk and was replaced by freshman pinch runner Kelly Grieve. After a groundout advanced the runner 60 feet, the rookie moved to third on a single up the middle by Posey. With runners at second and third following Posey's 14th steal of the campaign and two outs, Callahan walked to load the base paths. As has been her habit during the early season, Doepking stepped to the dish and again came through with a two-RBI single back up the middle, making it 5-0.

Ward punched out two more in the top of the fifth, upping her strikeout total to five, as new Virginia pitcher Karla Wilburn and pinch hitter Courtney Pettit each went down swinging. That total became seven Ks through six frames as pinch hitter Cynthia Javaras and O'Leary were retired via strikes.

Following a single up the middle by Callahan with two down in the bottom of the sixth, a scary moment for the Lady Vols as Doepking took a pitch off the helmet from Wilburn. Thankfully, the senior designated player shook off the blow and took her position down at first. A fielder's choice by Huff ended any threat as Doepking was tagged out between first and second.

Down to their final chance in regulation and facing a five-run deficit, Virginia's Preuss stepped in against Ward to lead off the top of the seventh frame. The Cavalier left fielder took a 3-2 pitch from Ward deep over the center field wall for her second homer of the Tennessee Classic and fourth of the season to cut the deficit to 5-1. Haller followed with a base hit to center, signaling the end of the day in the circle for Ward as Rhodes entered in relief.

The Nashville hurler christened her work by inducing a popup to second base from McCaskey recording the initial out. Wilburn drove a promising offering deep to left field for the Cavs, but UT's Pieroni drifted back to the base of the wall and made the catch. Second baseman Kierstie Cameron went down looking against Rhodes to end the contest.

No. 5 Tennessee will next be in action on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 5 p.m., hosting a doubleheader against Liberty at Lee Softball Stadium.

Live stats will be available through utladyvols.com for the two contests and, as always, periodic updates of the UT games will be recorded on the Lady Vol Hotline (865-974-8700, box #6).


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