Shannon Doepking delivers for Lady Vols

Trailing 3-0 through three innings and facing a 4-3 deficit with one down in the seventh, No. 9 Tennessee got a clutch two-RBI double off the bat of senior catcher Shannon Doepking to post a huge come-from-behind, 5-4 win over No. 11 LSU and secure a big series victory.

Tennessee (43-9, 13-8) now leads the Bayou Bengals by one-and-a-half games for third-place in the league standings.

Doepking's heroics came as part of a 1-for-3 effort at the plate with a walk. Sophomore center fielder Erinn Webb also blasted a vital three-run homer, her sixth of the campaign, in the bottom of the fifth to help UT climb out of a 3-0 hole.

Senior third baseman Tonya Callahan was intentionally walked three of the four times she stepped to the dish on the afternoon. For the series, the power-hitting Holden, Mo., native reached safely 10 times in 11 appearances at the plate with two three-run home runs and eight combined walks (five intentional).

Freshman Ashton Ward picked up her team-best 24th win of the campaign despite allowing four earned runs on eight hits over seven innings of work with four strikeouts.

"We played a very tough LSU team who took us to two outs in the seventh inning before we managed to prevail," Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "Bottom line is we got the key hit with our two fastest kids on base, and that meant the ballgame.

"Hats off to (LSU head coach) Yvette Girouard, the LSU staff and players for their effort. This was a great series that we were fortunate to win. When I called a timeout and talked to Erinn Webb during her at-bat, I told her that we had slappers coming up next, so she needed to hit it out. That's what she did.

"Shannon Doepking never quit. They kept walking Tonya Callahan all throughout the series, and Shannon came through when it really counted."

Leading off the contest and with the Tennessee outfield playing in with a slap hitter at the dish, LSU designated player Dee Dee Henderson laced a shot to the gap in left center. Hammond raced to her left and almost managed to make an outstanding catch, but the ball tipped of her outstretched glove for a double. Second baseman Shannon Stein lifted a fly ball to left but right to Hammond who squeezed the orb for the initial out.

Center fielder Rachel Mitchell ripped a liner to UT sophomore second baseman Nicole Kajitani who leapt to make the catch and almost doubled off Henderson at second. Catcher Killian Roessner bounced down to Callahan at third and she threw across the diamond to freshman Jen Lapicki to retire the Tiger side with no scoring.

After the Big Orange went down in order in the opening frame, LSU (34-14, 12-10 SEC) broke on top on the scoreboard with two down in the top of the second. First baseman Erika Sluss drove a 3-2 offering from Ward to center recording her eighth home run of the campaign as the Tigers nabbed a 1-0 advantage.

Third baseman Jessica Mouse followed with a base knock that traveled all the way to the wall in right center. Webb hustled over and made an outstanding play to prevent a LSU double. Left fielder Jazz Jackson bounced a high chopper to second that Kajitani raced in from her defensive position to corral before throwing to just catch the runner at first and end the frame.

Doepking granted the Big Orange their initial base runner in the bottom of the second by drawing a leadoff walk from LSU starter Cody Trahan. Sophomore right fielder Tiffany Huff was called on to drop the sacrifice bunt but her slow roller traveled right to LSU third baseman Jessica Mouse, who turned and cut down freshman pinch runner Kelsey Stander at second.

Lapicki lifted a high pop outside of third that Mouse tracked down in foul territory. She made the catch near the fence as Huff attempted to advance to second. The Saugus, Calif., native got caught in a rundown, however, and was tagged for out number three.

LSU added to their advantage in the top of the third as the lefty Mitchell pulled a Ward offering over the wall in right for a two-run homer as the Purple & Gold nabbed a 3-0 lead. A single from Duhon and a Lady Vol fielding error placed two Bayou Bengals aboard with two down as the scoring threat continued.

Fortunately for the Big Orange, Ward made an outstanding grab of a Sluss chopper back to the circle and threw on to first concluding the threat.

Tiger hurler Trahan struck Posey with the initial pitch of the bottom of the fourth inning granting the Lady Vols a speedy lead-off base runner. Freshman designated player Chandra Mogan bounced into a fielder's choice to Mouse as the LSU third baseman again managed to cut down the lead runner at second. With Doepking at the plate, Mogan and Callahan pulled off a double steal to reach second and third with just one retired.

Unfortunately, Doepking lined sharply right to Mouse at third, and the LSU fielder turned and tagged out Mogan, who was attempting to dive back into the bag, for an inning ending double play.

An error on Tiger shortstop Tayl'r Hollis on a Huff ground ball got an important scoring attack started for the Big Orange in the bottom of the fifth. Lapicki followed by blasting a double over the head of LSU center fielder Rachel Mitchell and off the wall as Huff rolled into third with none out.

That brought Webb to the dish in the clutch situation, and the Hemet, Calif., native came through by hammering her sixth home run of the campaign over the right center field wall to deadlock the contest at 3-3. That brought an end to Trahan's day in the circle as LSU head coach Yvette Girouard brought in Tiffany Garcia in relief.

Unfortunately for the Bayou Bengals, the new hurler walked Kajitani and Hammond on eight straight pitches placing two aboard with still no one retired. Posey dropped a sacrifice bunt advancing the runners up 60 feet into scoring position. Co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly summoned in junior Danielle Pieroni to pinch hit for Mogan. She grounded out to second as Kajitani remained occupying third on the sharp bouncer.

Callahan was intentionally walked for the second time on the afternoon to load the bases for Doepking. The Acton, Calif., native worked the count to 3-2 before Garcia got Doepking to swing at a tough inside pitch for strike three.

The Purple & Gold bounced right back in the top of the sixth as right fielder Quinlan Duhon drove a 2-2 pitch from Ward over the left field wall giving the Tigers a 4-3 advantage.

After LSU left a pair of base runners stranded in the top half, Tennessee stepped to the dish in the bottom of the seventh facing its final chance in regulation play. Hammond battled Garcia to 2-2 before driving a liner straight to a leaping Erika Sluss at first base for the first retirement.

Posey managed to draw a free pass to place the tying run aboard, and advanced to second on a ground ball off the bat of Mogan. Callahan was intentionally walked for the third time in the contest and was substituted on the base paths by speedy freshman Kelly Grieve who represented the potential winning score.

That brought Doepking up facing the biggest spot in the contest for the Lady Vols. As she has done so many times before Doepking came through in the clutch by driving a double over right fielder Duhon's head and off the wall. Posey scored easily and with the key substitution of Grieve, the quick rookie managed to avoid a tag attempt at the plate to score as Tennessee nabbed a spirited 5-4 win.

No. 9 Tennessee will return to action at 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday, April 22, at Lee Softball Stadium by hosting a doubleheader against in-state foe Austin Peay.

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