Tennessee, Va. Tech to square off again

Karen Weekly took note of who sat beside her in Saturday's post-game press conference – Jen Lapicki and Erinn Webb – and nodded her approval. It meant the coach's message had gotten through to the young hitters: The Lady Vols need their offense. Tennessee will have to find some contributions throughout the lineup Sunday as it faces the daunting task of having to twice beat Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech, 46-15, put itself in prime position Saturday with a 4-0 defeat of Tennessee, 49-15, thanks to a grand slam by light-hitting Caroline Stolle, who entered the game with a .157 batting average, a .220 slugging percentage, nine RBI and one home run.

Tennessee pitcher Megan Rhodes wryly noted that she wouldn't toss that pitch again, a curveball, to Stolle, who knocked a line drive that looked like it might skip the gap and then carried over the rightfield wall.

The lengthy at-bat involved a full count, four consecutive foul balls down the leftfield line and a Tennessee's shortstop's collision with an umpire on a foul popup that wasn't controversial because the Lady Vols declined to use the lost chance to end the inning as an excuse.

Stolle does have a knack for big hits. It was her single that drove in the runner in the 1-0 exhibition win over the U.S. Olympic team, in which Angela Tincher threw a no-hitter.

So which hit was bigger?

"This one today," her coach, Scot Thomas, answered.

"This one today," Stolle said. "It means a lot more. The hit against the USA National Team was a lot of fun, but this one definitely means a lot more."

The win put the Hokies in new territory – a regional final with the chance to advance to the Super Regional.

"That was a great win for us," Thomas said. "Obviously, that's the first time that we've been able to sneak past Saturday so it's a big win."

The loss put Tennessee in unfamiliar territory – the underdog and needing two wins to stay alive in the postseason.

"I feel like we just didn't play our game today," Lady Vol senior third baseman Tonya Callahan said. "You have to score to win. Whether its one or 10, you have to put them up there. Later on as the game went on I had more confidence in our team. I think we did start hitting later on in the game."

Tennessee got three hits off Tincher – one apiece by Callahan, Shannon Doepking and Tiffany Huff – and put runners in scoring position, including loading the bases in the fourth inning when Lillian Hammond was hit by a pitch, Doepking laced a single up the middle and Huff walked, but Jen Lapicki flew out to leftfield to end the threat.

Prior to that inning Tincher had struck out eight Lady Vols, some swinging, some looking, but Tennessee put runners on base in the sixth and seventh inning.

It was that production that the Lady Vols will need Sunday, and Callahan said having now seen Tincher will help the hitters.

"I guess that's with any pitcher," Callahan said. "The more times you face her, you know more of what her rhythm is. You get smarter I guess, too, so it's not as much of a surprise as the first time. So the more times you see a pitcher your likelihood of hitting it increases.

"It just goes back to hitting strikes, seeing the ball and hitting the ball. You get in there, and you are expecting a lot of riseballs. She did do a good job of bringing them in to us. I think that is a pitch we didn't jump on, but I think we will next time."

Thomas noted that his team seemed to relax after the grand slam and will need to keep its focus Sunday.

"I thought we cruised a little bit at the end, and we talked about that after the game," Thomas said. "I thought we got a little bit too comfortable, so that's something that we can improve on. Overall though, I really liked our effort today."

The Hokies hung around Lee Stadium until about 4 p.m. Saturday and then left for the day. Sunday's game is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. and will be video-streamed at Tennessee Lady Volunteers. Gametracker stats also will be available at the site.

If a second game is necessary, the approximate start time is 4 p.m., but the forecast for the Knoxville area included rain showers so the start times could change.

The Lady Vols hung out next door at the Regal Soccer Stadium – the teams in the regional could use its locker rooms and players' lounge between games – and waited for the early evening game, which began at 5:30 p.m. Saturday against Louisville, 31-23.

Sandwiched between Tennessee's games was the elimination game between Louisville and Winthrop, 36-19. Louisville prevailed, 4-1, behind the pitching of Kristen Wadwell and a 3-4 performance at the plate by left fielder Kassie Stanfill, who hit a double and a triple and drove in two runs.

"I just went out swinging," Stanfill said. "I had a 3-0 count, took my hack, then the next pitch I just got my hands through and dropped it out to right (for a triple). It felt good."

Winthrop, which was representing the Big South Conference, got its run in the fifth inning after Sarah Magee drove in Lenny Stoddart, who had doubled to the wall.

"We played a team that was hot and just did a better job of doing the things that you have to do to win a game," Winthrop Coach Mark Cooke said. "They hit the ball with runners in scoring position and got great pitching from Wadwell."

Wadwell threw 116 pitches in that win and had little left in the tank against Tennessee, which set the tone early with a lineup shuffle and leadoff bunt single by Hammond and went on to win, 8-1.

"We weren't ready for that speed right away with the first batter putting down the bunt and getting on," Louisville Coach Sandy Pearsall said. "That certainly set a tone that was not what we wanted to start a game with. If we make that play we settle down much faster."

Hammond moved to second on a throwing error and reached third on a fielding error off a grounder by Chandra Mogan. Mogan then stole second, and Hammond stole home on the throw down to second.

Tennessee, added another run in the third inning when Callahan drew a walk – she had three in the game and rarely saw a pitch close to the plate – and Kelsey Stander entered as a pinch runner, stole second and got to third on a fielding error. Lapicki hit a two-out single to rightfield to bring Stander home for the 2-0 lead.

But Louisville answered back in the bottom of the third by loading the bases with one out. Kristi Cunningham scored on a sacrifice fly to left by Chelsea Bemis, but Stanfill grounded out and the Lady Vols kept the lead, 2-1.

"I felt we were in a good position to score, and were in a position where we wanted to score, and we needed to score in that situation," Pearsall said. "I think if we score a couple of more runs it makes a difference in the outcome of the game because our team feels momentum, and their team feels a little more pressure."

Tennessee opened up the game in the fifth inning when four runners crossed the plate. Wadwell walked Nicole Kajitani, who had replaced Mogan in the lineup, and Callahan. Doepking reached first on a fielder's choice, and Callahan advanced to second. Tiffany Huff doubled to left-center to bring home Callahan. Lapicki followed with a single to leftfield to score Doepking. Erinn Webb tripled with a line shot over first base that rolled deep into rightfield to bring home Huff and Natalee Weissinger, who entered as a pinch runner for Lapicki.

Wadwell, who went the distance against Tennessee and threw 139 pitches, didn't blame fatigue.

"It was a long day and everything. There are just some innings that are good and some innings that you struggle a little," Wadwell said. "They capitalized on some pitches."

"I'm very proud of my team," Pearsall said. "I felt like they really battled in there. I know it's been a long day for them, and Kristen threw a lot today … but I thought our team did a great job and really fought hard in that game."

"I think Louisville is a very good team," Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Karen Weekly said. "Kristen Wadwell threw really well this weekend. I'm sure fatigue got to her after awhile, but she's an excellent pitcher, and they're a tough team."

The Lady Vols tallied two more runs in the seventh inning when Huff walked, and Kelly Grieve came in to run for her. Lapicki tattooed a pitch off the scoreboard in left-center that got out of the park on a straight-line trajectory and might have traveled in excess of 250 feet had the scoreboard not blocked its path.

"I was really feeling comfortable in that game," Lapicki said. "I just wanted to get a piece of the ball, and I just got enough to get it out. I just went up there and tried to get a hit."

The offense from Lapicki, who was 4-4 with four RBI, and Webb, who was 2-4 with two RBI, was especially welcomed by the coaching staff, which has been seeking offensive help from the lower half of the order.

"I think I'm just real pleased to have these two sitting next to me," Weekly said, gesturing to Lapicki, a freshman first baseman, and Webb, a sophomore outfielder. "I think they really responded to the challenge we presented to them before the game, that we really needed their sticks in the lineup. We need that kind of production out of the bottom of our order. The kids swung the bats well."

The Weeklys also shook up the lineup by moving Hammond to the leadoff spot and dropping Kenora Posey to the ninth slot. Hammond was 2-5, and Posey was 2-4.

"I don't think we've had anybody in the leadoff spot this year that's just really cemented themselves," Karen Weekly said. "At times Kenora does a great job there; at times Lillian's done a great job there.

"We just kind of had a feeling because Lillian had had a really good week of practice and was putting the bat on the ball pretty well, and we just sort of had a feeling about putting her there. It was Ralph's call; he just had an instinct about it. And Chandra in the two spot is such a good contact hitter. We felt like if we could get Lilly on base we can make some things happen. I think that was a big key in the first inning. … Kenora has been a great nine hitter for us for three years running and kind of got put in a spot this year that may not be the most comfortable position for her.

"I think that's just the mark of our team. We're going to go with our instincts and hope that the buttons we push are going to work."

Although the arrival of the offense was applauded, Karen Weekly also noted the pitching performance by Rhodes, who followed up her struggles against Virginia Tech, with a 97-pitch outing against Louisville that included seven strikeouts and just one walk.

"I was really proud of our pitching in this game," Weekly said. "We only walked one batter, and we didn't hit anybody. Megan pitched very tough. She's thrown a lot of innings for us this weekend, and I know she'll be ready to go again (Sunday)."

Weekly said the coaching staff would make a decision later on who to start Sunday – Rhodes, who has thrown a lot of innings in the past three games, or freshman Ashton Ward, who is rested.

"We haven't decided that yet," Weekly said. "We have to sit down as a coaching staff and figure that out, and it may be a decision we don't make until close to game time. I'm sure you'll see both pitchers at some point in time."

Rhodes, a senior, said the team would draw on the same mindset it took Saturday between games.

"The way to win this next game is not to go in the clubhouse and feel bad for yourself but get ready," Rhodes said. "I tried to have that kind of attitude. … Try to keep it one pitch at a time and not get ahead of myself and stay in the game and try to keep my team in it as long as I can."

Although Tennessee will need contributions from the youngsters, the lineup does have battle-tested veterans, such as Callahan, Doepking, Posey, Hammond and Danielle Pieroni, who have been through regionals, Super Regional play and three stints in College World Series.

"I think it is valuable," Weekly said. "We should be able to draw on that and get us through (Sunday)."

Tennessee had its chances against Virginia Tech in the first game and nearly got out of the fateful fourth inning without allowing any runs, despite the fact the Hokies had filled the bases for the second consecutive inning.

Posey had a chance to catch a popup in foul territory in front of the Tennessee dugout, but she made contact with an umpire, which threw her off track, and the ball dropped safely to the ground. Callahan also had a shot at the ball, but she lost it in the sun and told Posey she couldn't catch it.

"Right when Tonya found out that she couldn't catch it, that's when I ran into the umpire and had to push him out of the way to try and catch the ball," Posey said. "I was running over to catch the ball and I had a better angle from the side. Then once I got right up under it and it was coming down, it went right in the line of the sun. I lost track of the ball, and it was too late for me to put my glove up so it dropped behind me.

"There was a chance of catching it, but it was behind me and I was more in front of the ball. And I probably would have had it if the sun wasn't in my eyes, so I probably would have had that ball."

Given another chance, Stolle drove an outside pitch over the rightfield wall.

"Although the outside pitch isn't necessarily my strong point, I knew I just had to push it and go with it," Stolle said. "Once I saw it, I had no idea that it was going to go over, I just thought it was going to drop in there. Once I saw it go over the fence, I was just ecstatic and sprinting around the bases. I was not doing the confident home run trot at all."

Posey didn't blame the umpire, and Ralph Weekly noted the team was already in a vulnerable position.

"Yeah, if she had made that catch that would have gotten us out of that inning, but we had the bases loaded two innings in a row," Weekly said. "They key for us is that we hit the leadoff batter in that inning, the inning that they scored in. If we are going to play and be successful against Tincher or any other pitcher we have to hold them until the offense gets clicking. When you look at teams that win championships, that's what happens."

Karen Weekly also said that the Lady Vol players need to swing more and think less.

"We were thinking a little too much earlier," Weekly said. "Sometimes when you game plan for something they go up there with too much in their head and anybody who knows anything about hitting will tell you, you can't think and hit at the same time.

"I think we need to be a little more reactive (Sunday). Just see the ball and hit the ball. Certainly get the bat off our shoulder a little bit earlier than we did (Saturday)."

Stolle said the key for Virginia Tech is to not relax knowing it only needs one win to take the regional.

"We need to regain our focus and not go into (Sunday) like it's a free ride," Stolle said. "We definitely need to go in there with the intensity that we have gone into the past few games."

Weekly noted the at-bats against Tincher were better later in game – longer at-bats and putting the ball into play.

"I think anytime you see a pitcher the more you see them the more comfortable you get with what they're going to do," Weekly said. "It's not going to make it easy. She's a fantastic pitcher.

"Hopefully we'll come out and pick up where we left off. She's going to come out with her best stuff. Our kids will be ready because nobody wants to go home right now. When you're in the position we're in you've just got to play it one pitch at a time and try to make your season last as long as it can."

The youngsters will be needed again, and they sounded ready.

"It's just going out with an attitude of getting the job done," Lapicki said.

"I think it's going to be a challenge, but our team is definitely up for it," Webb said. "We are all going to have great attitudes and come in fighting because we have a lot of heart."

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