Lady Vols fall to Hokies in second game

A rain delay and a few chords of "Enter Sandman" combined to shift momentum from Tennessee to Virginia Tech, and the Hokies powered their way to a 4-2 win in the nightcap and a spot in the Super Regional.

The Lady Vols season ended Sunday – but not before they got the program's 50th win in the first game – and Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly saluted his seniors.

Tennessee, 50-16, forced a second game with Virginia Tech, 47-15, by jumping all over the Hokies, 7-1, in the first game and chasing ace pitcher Angela Tincher in 1.1 innings. The Lady Vols scored four runs in the first two innings thanks to control issues for Tincher and a porous defense.

"First I would like to give credit to Virginia Tech," Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. "They came back from adversity much the same as we did against Michigan a couple of years ago when Monica (Abbott) got lit up in the first game, and we pulled her out and came back with her in the second game.

"The second thing I would like to say is that I am really proud of our kids. We won 50 games this year with a team that lost seven players, six starters from last year. I think they achieved a heck of a lot and I think they fought to the very end. I'm just really proud of them. Karen and I are proud of them. It was a battle and at least we took them to the wire."

The first game was delayed for nearly two hours from the scheduled 1:30 p.m. start because of rain in Knoxville, and the down time seemed to rattle Virginia Tech.

The Lady Vols got off to a quick start in the second game by manufacturing an early run – slugger Tonya Callahan dropped a bunt on a suicide squeeze – to get Lillian Hammond across the plate.

Senior pitcher Megan Rhodes took that 1-0 lead and a no-hitter into the fourth inning and gave up a singe but also got two outs. The light rain that had started to fall in the second inning turned into a downpour, and the game was halted for 55 minutes.

When play resumed, Rhodes wasn't as sharp as earlier, and Misty Hall hit a 2-2 fastball to leftfield that left no doubt as soon as it left her bat to give Virginia Tech a 2-1 lead. Rhodes walked Kelsey Hoffman, and freshman Ashton Ward came on in relief but gave up a double to Jessica Everhart that scored Hoffman.

Lady Vol junior Danielle Pieroni took the circle next, and Beth Walker reached on a fielding error by Kenora Posey, who was struck in the hand as she tried to glove the ball. Whitney Davis singled to rightfield, and Everhart scored. Caroline Stolle struck out to finally finish the fourth inning, but six batters had come to the plate when play resumed, and four had scored to give Tincher a 4-1 cushion.

"I wasn't going to say it but since I'm asked, I feel like if the rain hadn't have come we would have been in a lot better position," Weekly said. "She is moving along with a (one-hitter), two outs and their cleanup hitter coming up. The problem with that is – and all of you know sports – she pitched a full game yesterday and a full game in the first game, and we knew that if she had to cool down for 35 or 40 minutes, it would be tough to come back. And I think that's what happened.

"But you've still got to give credit to Virginia Tech for coming out and hitting the ball. So I don't want to take away from them, but I think the rain delay didn't help us for sure."

A loop of songs is played over the loudspeakers at Lee Stadium before the game and between innings. The medley of songs, which looped all weekend, includes Metallica's rock anthem "Enter Sandman," and the signature riffs happened to be blaring as the Hokies prepared to restart the fourth inning. It's the signature song of Virginia Tech and the one played when the athletic teams take the field.

The Virginia Tech players could be heard yelling in the dugout right before the inning got underway with Hall getting ready to go to the plate.

"I think it helped a lot because when we heard ‘Enter Sandman' we all pretty much got our adrenaline going," said Hall, who explained the song is played when the Hokie football players take the field. "I know that my adrenaline was at the peak when I was up to bat."

"We play it at our games, too, when we run out on the field," Tincher said.

"It's kind of like the second fight song for Virginia Tech now," Coach Scot Thomas said. "That would be like us playing ‘Rocky Top' in Blacksburg."

Thomas also used the time with his team during the delay to remind the batters to tinker with their follow-through.

"We didn't talk a whole lot other than about some hitting adjustments because we were popping the ball up a lot," Thomas said. "We just talked about getting the top hand through. I thought when we came back out we got the line drives and things we needed to do. It was a good adjustment period."

The inning shifted momentum away from Tennessee, but the Lady Vols started their half of the fourth inning with a single by Tonya Callahan. But Tincher, who had regrouped after her early struggles in the first game, struck out the next three batters.

"I just didn't get in a rhythm like I did (Saturday), and I don't think I was prepared for some of the stuff that happened," Tincher said. "I feel like I fell apart in the first couple innings, but I just tried to refocus and pull myself back together and be stronger in the second game."

Everything went right for Tennessee in game one. The Lady Vols put runs up in four different innings and pounded 11 hits. Sophomore outfielder Erinn Webb was 3-4 with a double and two HRs to centerfield.

Virginia Tech's lone run came on a solo shot against Ward by Beth Walker in the fifth inning. Ward struck out the next batter but walked Stolle, and Weekly brought Rhodes back in to finish the game. Rhodes threw 90 pitches, struck out four and walked two.

It was a long day for Rhodes, who waited out the first rain delay to start game one, and then came back to finish the game and also started game two, which was interrupted by rain.

"There wasn't anything I really noticed," Rhodes said of the down time between pitches in the second game in terms of fatigue. "I didn't feel like I had a different mindset. I do agree. I think we would have kept going if the rain hadn't come. She (Hall) just got a hold of one. She got a hold of the right pitch. It always hard to warm up, cool down, warm up, cool down, but I can't tell you that there was anything noticeably different."

Senior shortstop Kenora Posey noticed that Tennessee seemed to lose its edge in the interim.

"I think that after that break we kind of lost focus, and we had to regain it," Posey said. "And it took us a while to get back to our game plan that we had in the first game."

That plan was to go in swinging against Tincher. Six batters went to the plate in the first inning of the first game, and Tincher walked two of them. Two ended up crossing the plate.

In the second inning, the Lady Vols sent seven batters to the plate, and two more scored, thanks to two Hokie errors, including one in which the catcher mistakenly threw to an empty first base on a called second strike that she dropped. She thought it was the third strike and needed to throw the runner out at first, but the first baseman was playing well in with Lillian Hammond, a slap hitter and bunter, up to bat.

Kelly Grieve, who had singled and advanced on a Posey bunt, scored from second because the errant throw sailed into rightfield.

"We just told them to swing from their heels," Weekly said of Sunday's approach to hitting Tincher. "If it's anywhere you can hit it, hit it. That's what we told them, and that's what they came out and did. I couldn't have asked for more out of our team. I think they gave it everything they've got. The name of the game is fastpitch, and they had a great pitcher and we did, too, but they got us."

Thomas opted to bring Kenzie Roark in to finish the first game and allow Tincher to regroup.

"I thought that Kenzie could come in and do the job, but at that point Angela wasn't in her rhythm and it just wasn't happening," Thomas said. "She was just not being as effective as I thought she could be, but we knew that if we scored a few runs we could run her back out there.

"At that point though, we knew it's potentially going to be a long day so we thought we could save her and get into a whole different scenario in the second game if we had to. We would rather have her fresh, rather than pound her out for seven innings."

The Lady Vols started game two, which began at 6:10 p.m., with the same approach but got cautious in the later innings - though they put a runner on base in every inning after the rain delay, and Webb uncorked her third homer of the day to centerfield for the final 4-2 score.

"In game one obviously we came out there and came swinging out of our heels," Callahan said. "I think kind of towards the end of the second game, we kind of went back to being more passive. I think that we came out in the second game with the same mentality. I think that in the first game we came out and had a different game plan and that's how we got on in the first game."

Virginia Tech will next play Michigan in a best-of-three Super Regional for the right to go to the College World Series. It's the first time in program history that the Hokies have made it to the Sweet 16.

"It's been a long day," Thomas said. "It was tough to focus after the rain and getting a late start. I thought we were a little lethargic and weren't ready to play our best ball at the beginning of the first game, and it proved to bite us a little bit, obviously.

"But I'm real proud of the way the team came back and took care of business in the second game and didn't let the rain delay bother us and just kept playing. I think we relaxed a little bit and played a little better there. I'm just really proud of the girls and they took care of business and finally moving on. It's exciting."

Tennessee had to beat the field in the Knoxville Regional, and Rhodes got Tennessee's three NCAA postseason wins against Winthrop, Louisville and Virginia Tech.

"I still think she (Angela Tincher) is the best pitcher in America, and I think Megan battled with her pitch for pitch all the way," Weekly said.

"I guess it happened at the right time," Rhodes said of her performance in the postseason. "I would have wanted it to happen now."

The Lady Vols lose Rhodes, Callahan, Posey, catcher Shannon Doepking and infielder Caitlin Ryan. Three of the seniors, Rhodes, Callahan and Posey, came to the post-game press conference and all held back tears.

The seniors participated in a lot of success over four years at Tennessee, including four straight NCAA tourney bids, three consecutive appearances at the College World Series, a SEC tourney title and a program-first SEC regular season championship.

"Throughout my whole career, and this year, I feel like it's just been up and down," Callahan said. "I wouldn't take anything back. I feel like we laid it all on the line. I don't feel like I really regret anything. Not only do you learn so much on the field, but I've learned a lot as a person. I'll take a lot away from this."

"I definitely don't regret anything," Posey said. "I probably wouldn't be at a DI school, so this is great for me and I appreciate it. I really enjoyed my teammates and I thank them for playing behind me and giving me a good season."

"I agree with what they said," Rhodes said. "Obviously it's disappointing, but I really feel like everyone went out and left it on the field. I can't say there was a point when none of us were in the game and none of us were giving it our everything."

Weekly thanked the media for covering the regional and promised that Tennessee would bounce back.

"We'll be back," Weekly said. "We've got the number one recruiting class coming in. We'll be back."

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