Softball opens NCAA play Friday

No. 13 Tennessee (47-14) prepares to open its sixth overall and fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament by hosting the Knoxville Regional over May 16-18 at the Lee Softball Stadium. UT's opening opponent will be Big South Regular Season and Tournament champion Winthrop (36-17) on Friday at 5 p.m.

Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament titlist #17/16 Virginia Tech (44-15) and Louisville of the Big East Conference will christen the day's action at 2:30 p.m.

The Lady Vols maintain an 11-4 record in regional play, including nine straight victories dating back to the 2005 campaign, and a 27-12 overall NCAA Tournament mark. This year's opponents should look familiar to the Big Orange as Virginia Tech visited Knoxville for NCAA Regionals in both 2005 & 2006, Louisville in 2006 and Winthrop in 2007.

During 2006 tourney play at Tyson Park, the Hokies downed Louisville in 12 innings by a 1-0 count before the Cardinals repaid the favor in a 10-1 (five inninng) elimination game rout. Last season, Tennessee defeated Winthrop in the Knoxville Regional final by a 7-0 total.

Taking a closer look at how UT has fared against this weekend's opposition finds that the Lady Vols maintain perfect 2-0 records against both Winthrop and Furman and a 6-5 all-time edge over Virginia Tech. The Orange & White last faced the Cardinals and Hokies during the 2006 Knoxville Regional (both wins), while Tennessee downed Winthrop last season at Tyson Park in NCAA action.

It's been a week full of honors for the Big Orange as senior Tonya Callahan reaped first-team selections for the third straight campaign to both the NFCA All-South Region and All-Southeastern Conference teams. The Holden, Mo., native was also selected as the SEC Player of the Year and made the cut to 10 finalists for the prestigious USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year award.

Senior Kenora Posey received a second-team All-SEC nod and was chosen as the shortstop honoree on the inaugural All-SEC Defensive Team.

Sophomore Tiffany Huff, junior Lillian Hammond and freshman Ashton Ward were tabbed second-team NFCA All-South Region. Hammond and senior Megan Rhodes were recipients of first-team ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District IV honors.

Big South Conference regular season and tournament champion Winthrop enters NCAA play with a 36-17 overall record and big-game experience having suffered close defeats to then No. 12 Michigan (1-4), No. 14 North Carolina (3-4, 0-2), No. 19 DePaul (0-4), No. 22 Virginia Tech (0-3) and having posted a triumph over No. 18 Oregon State (4-1).

The Lady Eagles enter hitting .280 as a team while scoring runs at a 4.4 per game clip. Junior Lisa Kingsmore guides the way with her stellar .448 average (74-of-165) with six homers and 30 RBIs. Junior Mallory Hogan (.288) has contributed a team-best 11 home runs and 49 RBIs.

A three-member pitching staff has combined for a 1.47 team ERA and limited the opposition to a .216 average. Sophomore Megan Evans has seen the most time in the circle having thrown 159 frames with 155 K's, an 18-6 record and a 1.32 ERA. Sophomore Cari Wooldridge has tossed 139 innings while posting a 16-9 mark, a 1.81 ERA and 104 strikeouts. Senior Izzy Trottier has delivered a 2-2 effort with a 1.15 ERA in 54.2 frames of support.

ACC Tournament Champion Virginia Tech (44-15) boasts perhaps the top pitcher in NCAA Division I in the form of Angela Tincher. The senior hurler possesses a miniscule 0.57 ERA, a 33-6 record and a staggering 571 strikeouts in 283.2 innings in the circle. As a team, the Hokies have tallied a .252 average, but in truth haven't always needed lots of offense with Tincher in firm control from the circle. Charisse Mariconda owns team-highs in batting average (.368), hits (63) and RBIs (36).

The Louisville Cardinals received an at-large bid to the tourney after registering a 30-21 record in 2008 and a 12-8 mark in BIG EAST play. With a youthful squad made up of just two seniors among 19 total players listed on the roster, Louisville has hit .270 as a team with sophomore catcher Melissa Roth leading the Cardinals offense with a .361 average to go along with two HRs and 22 RBIs. Sophomore Kristen Wadwell has been the first choice in the circle by recording a 2.19 ERA with 155 strikeouts and an 18-13 record in 226.2 innings.

Live stats will be available through the Tennessee Lady Volunteers website of all NCAA Knoxville Regional contests. Live streaming video with play-by-play audio will be provided for Tennessee's opening matchup with Winthrop on Friday and any possible Sunday action involving the Lady Vols.

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