Softball team takes SEC opener

BATON ROUGE, La. – Lady Vol senior pitcher Megan Rhodes fired a complete game from the circle and sophomore Erinn Webb knocked in three runs as No. 14 Tennessee (47-13) downed No. 25 Georgia (43-22), 5-2, in opening round action on Thursday, May 8th, at Tiger Park. With the triumph, UT swept all four games from the Lady Bulldogs during the 2008 season.

"When we needed Erin Webb, she came through in a big way," Tennessee Co-Head Coach Karen Weekly said. "She was definitely our offensive player of the game. I also feel like we need to do some more damage with the bases loaded. But in the postseason, it's all about getting wins."

Webb was responsible for a two-run double in the third inning and a RBI single in the fifth, upping her RBI count on the season to 37.

Sophomore catcher Tiffany Huff was 1-for-1 with a run scored, two walks and an RBI. Senior third baseman Tonya Callahan delivered a single in her lone official at-bat while drawing free passes number 53 and 54 of the campaign, including No. 19 intentionally.

In the contest, the Big Orange managed to draw eight walks off Georgia starting pitcher Christie Hamilton (6 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 8 BB, 4 Ks).

Rhodes allowed just two earned runs on five hits with four strikeouts in a complete-game effort, improving to 20-8 on the season. In four games this year against the Bulldogs, the Nashville native was 4-0 overall with a 1.75 ERA and 11 Ks over 20.0 innings of work.

"I guess it worked out pretty well for me this year," Rhodes said. "This time of year it's all about who can make the least amount of mistakes - whoever is more focused and comes to play."

"Megan did a great job of shutting down the top of Georgia's order and not giving up hits with runners in scoring position," Weekly said. "The homer is the only run I'd credit to Megan, since we should have made a play on the other score. She made the tough pitches when she needed to, and is a perfect example of a senior stepping up when needed in the postseason.

"We also needed Erinn Webb today. She was our offensive heroine of the game. I'd still like to see more damage done with the bases loaded, but it's the postseason, so you survive and advance. Georgia is a tough team to play. They are always coming after you from the first pitch until the last."

Right from the start opening the first inning, Rhodes fell behind lead-off hitter Sojourner Moody 3-0 before rebounding to register a strikeout. UGA center fielder Taylor Schlopy drew a four-pitch free pass, and left fielder Megan Wiggins also was retired on a K for the second out.

Third baseman Alisa Goler lifted a blooper to left field that junior Lillian Hammond didn't appear to get a good jump on as the sphere dropped in front of her for a double, plating Schlopy all the way from first for a quick 1-0 lead. Catcher Melissa Wood popped up to Callahan in foul ground outside of third to end the inning, but not before Georgia had taken an early advantage. UT was just 11-6 entering today's contest when allowing its opponent to score first.

The bottom of the first opened in promising fashion for the Lady Vols as senior shortstop Kenora Posey drew a lead-off walk against Hamilton and immediately swiped second for her team-best 41st steal of the season. Hammond bounced back to the circle, advancing the runner to third with just one down. Georgia Coach Lu Harris-Champer made the decision to intentionally walk Callahan, her 19th intentional free pass of the campaign to move her into fifth alone on the single-season NCAA Division I list in that category.

Surprisingly, Callahan took off for second as part of a double steal, sliding in just ahead of a tag as Posey raced home from third to dead-lock the contest. On shortstop Kristin Schnake's errant throw to the plate, Callahan advanced 60 feet. Following a groundout from senior designated player Shannon Doepking, sophomore catcher Tiffany Huff ripped a shot to center that turned an eventually leaping Schlopy completely around in a circle before the ball tipped off her glove for a run scoring double as UT nabbed a 2-1 lead.

Freshman first baseman Jen Lapicki walked to place a pair aboard for Erinn Webb, but the freshman center fielder flied out to left completing the frame.

After a double play concluded the Georgia second, Lady Vol sophomore second baseman Nicole Kajitani ripped a 2-2 pitch through the left side christening the bottom half of the inning. A sharp one-out slap to right off the bat of Posey looked promising, but UGA's Victoria Sanders managed to drift over and corral the ball. Hammond bounced down to third for the final out as Kajitani remained stranded at first.

Callahan opened the bottom of the third by beating out an infield hit that traveled deep into the hole at short. Doepking's sacrifice bunt advanced the runner into scoring position with just one retired. A walk issued to Huff placed two Lady Vols aboard the base paths, and with two down, Webb launched a double into the right center field gap that rolled all the way to the wall, scoring both runners for a 4-1 Tennessee advantage.

A string of six consecutive batters retired by Rhodes ended in the top of the fifth as Schnake sharply lined a one-out homer off a metal sign just beyond the left field wall, cutting the Georgia deficit to 4-2. Newly inserted left fielder Danielle Pieroni handled a pair of mid-range fly outs to left to back her hurler as the Big Orange maintained its lead.

Hamilton issued consecutive walks to Callahan, Doepking and Huff, loading the bases for UT beginning the bottom of the fifth. A fielder's choice to short off the bat of Lapicki cut down the lead runner at the plate recording the first out of the frame. Webb delivered a single through the right side to post her third RBI of the afternoon, as senior pinch runner Caitlin Ryan crossed for a 5-2 advantage.

The aftermath of Webb's base knock turned bizarre, however, as Huff was thrown out at home plate on a strong throw in from right field by Sanders and Lapicki was cut down at third by a toss from Wood behind the plate completing an unfortunate double play for the Orange & White.

With one final opportunity to claw back into the contest in the top of the seventh, UGA's Jennie Auger and Schnake each were retired via infield pop-up. With two down Sanders lined a shot to center for a single to grant the Lady Bulldogs some brief life. Moody got in front of Rhodes in the count 3-0, before the UT hurler battled back to induce a 3-2 ground ball to short completing the UT triumph.

"It feels great to start the postseason with a win, especially in a tournament like this,"Rhodes said. "The SEC is one of the premier conferences so any team you beat here is a good one."

No. 14 Tennessee will battle Florida on Friday at 6 p.m. ET in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament. Live stats and video will be available through utladyvols.com.

SEC HONORS: The annual conference awards have been announced and for the second consecutive season Tennessee has had a player receive the prestigious SEC Player of the Year trophy.

Senior third baseman Tonya Callahan reaped the honor after hitting .500 (30-of-60) in league play with 10 HRs and 25 RBIs, following in the footsteps of her former teammate India Chiles who garnered the 2007 award for the Lady Vols.

Senior shortstop Kenora Posey received her initial conference nods after being chosen Second-Team All-SEC as well as to the All-SEC Defensive squad.

First baseman Jen Lapicki was named to the SEC All-Freshman team. With three more selections this year, co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly have now had players reap 26 total All-SEC or All-Freshman nods since arriving at Rocky Top prior to the 2002 campaign.

Callahan received her third consecutive First-Team All-SEC choice. The Holden, Mo., native led the league in batting average, slugging percentage (1.033), on-base percentage (.684) and walks, while rating second in the SEC in home runs (10) and third in RBIs (25) despite having only 60 at-bats because of the tremendous number of walks. The 5'8 third baseman owns a Lady Vol-best 18 multi-hit games and 16 multi-RBI contests with a pair of six RBI games in 2008 (Arkansas & LSU).

She also blasted two homers in single contests against Georgia and LSU, posted a pair of 10-game hit streaks and reached base safely at least once in 56 of her 59 games this year. She has been on base at least once in each of her last 29 games and has hit .491 (26-of-53) with runners in scoring position in 2008 with 20 RBIs. Callahan is already the school record holder in single-season and career HRs, the SEC single-season record holder in walks and rates in the NCAA Division I single-season top five for intentional walks with 18.

Posey made the switch to shortstop for her senior season after spending three years at second base and played almost flawlessly in conference competition, committing only one error in 86 total chances. The Los Angeles product finished regular-season action second on the Lady Vol squad in batting average counting all games at .382 and posted a .342 mark in SEC action.

For the year Posey swiped 40-of-44 bases, and reached as the lead-off hitter at a .526 clip (30-of-57) while scoring a team-high 48 runs. She also posted 13 multi-hit games in 2008 counting all games, seven in SEC play. In a victory at No. 23 Mississippi State on April 26th, Posey delivered a career-high 5-for-5 effort at the dish with two runs scored.

Lapicki made quite a splash in her inaugural campaign wearing the Orange & White by hitting .285 overall (43-of-151) with 11 doubles, a triple, five home runs, 25 runs scored and 39 RBIs. The Oldwick, N.J., native recorded 11 multi-hit and 10-multi-RBI games in 2008 with highs of three base knocks against both #14 Georgia (April 5) and Florida State (March 1) and five RBIs, including her initial career grand slam, in a 14-0 (5 inn.) triumph over Wagner (Feb. 23).

She was twice chosen as the SEC Freshman of the Week during the 2008 campaign - once after her performance at the NFCA Leadoff Classic during which she hit .500 with seven RBIs on the way to reaping NFCA All-Tourney honors and after posting a .568 mark during a perfect 5-0 week that included a sweep of No. 14 Georgia.

Callahan also is among a high-profile list of top 10 remaining finalists for the seventh-annual USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year award.

Callahan was listed among the initial 50 players on the USA Softball National Player of the Year Watch List prior to each of the past two seasons. This year's selection marks the initial time Callahan has made the cut to the final 25 and the final 10.

The final three nominees for the award will be announced by ASA and USA Softball on May 21 while the winner of the 2008 USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Award will be introduced prior to the start of the 2008 NCAA Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City.

Tennessee pitcher Monica Abbott was the recipient of the 2007 USA National Player of the Year trophy on the basis of a season during which she recorded a 50-5 mark with a 0.68 ERA and a national single-season record 724 strikeouts. During the year the Salinas, Calif., native also broke the career NCAA records for wins, appearances, innings pitched, shutouts and strikeouts while guiding the Big Orange to a national runner-up finish at the Women's College World Series.

ACADEMIC HONORS: The Lady Vol softball program has been honored for its work both on the field and in the classroom by having two players receive ESPN the Magazine First-Team All-District IV selections.

Junior outfielder Lillian Hammond (4.0 GPA, criminal justice) reaped her second consecutive selection to the first squad, while senior pitcher Megan Rhodes (3.86, psychology) was chosen to the team for the initial time in her career. Tennessee now boasts eight total academic all-district IV selections and five first team choices since 2005.

To be eligible for ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District or All-America honors, a student-athlete must be a varsity starter or key reserve, maintain a cumulative grade point average of 3.20 on a scale of 4.00, have reached sophomore athletic and academic standing at his/her current institution and be nominated by his/her sports information director.

Hammond, a First-Team ESPN the Magazine Academic All-American last season for the Big Orange, has tallied a .367 average (55-of-150) over 57 games played with 51 starts during the 2008 campaign. The Chattanooga native has scored 43 total runs, swiped 22-of-23 bases, delivered two doubles, blasted her first inside-the-park home run and knocked in 10 tallies this season.

The outfielder owns 15 multi-hit games and tallied a career and Lady Vol season high 12-game hitting streak from March 9-29. During that span, Hammond hit .457 overall with four thefts, eight runs scored and six RBIs.

She blasted her initial career HR in a 4-1 triumph over Lipscomb on March 25th as her slap shot traveled over the head of a shallow-playing center fielder and all the way to the wall allowing Hammond to race all the way around for the inside-the-park job and her initial multi-RBI game.

As a senior for UT in the circle, Rhodes has responded with a 20-8 record, a 2.09 ERA and a team-best 196 strikeouts over 180.2 innings of work. Opposing teams have managed just a .178 batting average versus the 5'8 right hander, while she has tossed 10 complete-games, a pair of shutouts and struck out 10 or more batters in a game on four occasions.

Despite taking a tough 6-5 loss on May 3, Rhodes fired a career-best 11 innings during a marathon against No. 2 Florida while posting a season-high 14 strikeouts. Among Rhodes' victories this season have been four triumphs over nationally-ranked Georgia (including 5-2 on May 8 at the SEC Tournament) and a win against then-No. 2 Alabama (7-3 on March 9). With a current strikeout-per-7-inning ratio of 9.0 for her career, Rhodes stands tied for 39th in the category in NCAA Division I history.


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