Big comeback for softball team

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Facing a 5-0 deficit through the opening half of the first inning, No. 7 Tennessee (20-2) got clutch hits down the stretch from junior second baseman Erinn Webb, freshman third baseman Jessica Spigner, sophomore first baseman Jen Lapicki and senior hurler Danielle Pieroni in roaring back to defeat No. 5 Oklahoma, 6-5 on Saturday.

The game was part of "The Preview" presented by WORTH at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla. With the win Tennessee, 20-2, improved to a sterling 5-0 in extra innings during the 2009 campaign.

Spigner posted a 2-for-3 day at the plate with a double and a pair of RBIs, Webb bombed her third homer of the season as part of a 2-for-4 effort with a two-bagger, Lapicki added two doubles in three at-bats, Huff doubled and knocked in her team-best 44th run of the year and Pieroni came through with a monstrous two-out, sixth-inning single to bring UT all the way back to force a 5-5 deadlock.

With sophomore pitcher Ashton Ward not on the trip and therefore unavailable for duty in the day's second game because of an illness, Pieroni stepped into the circle to start against the powerful Sooners, allowing five runs on five hits in the first frame. Freshman Cat Hosfield entered in relief for the Lady Vols opening the second and permitted five hits in seven innings with four Ks, picking up the triumph to improve to 15-2 on the season.

"We were in a bit of a bind tonight with Ashton Ward home in Knoxville continuing to battle an illness," Lady Vol co-head coach Ralph Weekly. "Danielle Pieroni gave it a go, and then Cat Hosfield came in and shut Oklahoma down to give us a chance to win the game. This was a great team victory.

"Jessica Spigner, Jen Lapicki, Tiffany Huff, Danielle Pieroni and Erinn Webb each had clutch hits for us. Erinn brought us within a run on a huge homer, and Danielle came through in the clutch with a two-out single in the seventh to tie the game. Now we'll head back to our rooms, get some rest and prepare for another tough challenge from Northwestern on Sunday."

Oklahoma second baseman Evan Sallis opened the contest by slapping Pieroni's initial offering into center field for a lead-off single. Shortstop Amber Flores was struck by a 0-1 pitch, placing a pair aboard with no one out in the frame.

OU first baseman Samantha Ricketts followed with a double just inside the first base line as Sallis raced around for a quick 1-0 lead. With Sooners occupying second and third, catcher Lindsey Vandever dropped a squeeze bunt out in front of the plate. As Flores scored from third, a throw to second attempting to catch Vandever advancing traveled into center field. The throw home was called just late as Ricketts slid in under Huff's tag as OU nabbed a 3-0 lead with still none out.

Right fielder Katie Norris singled through the middle, placing runners at the corners. Left fielder Karolyne Long became the first retirement of the frame as she fouled out to Huff to the left of home plate. Designated player Wendy Trott ripped a ball right back to the circle and off Pieroni, but the hurler recovered to throw her out at first. Third baseman Dani Dobbs delivered a two-run single to center as the Sooners lead grew to 5-0.

A passed ball and an infield single from center fielder Haley Anderson again placed runners at the corners. Sallis dropped a bunt out in front of the dish that was handled by Lapicki. The Oldwick, N.J., native turned and tossed to Webb covering the bag at first.

Looking to start the daunting climb back, sophomore center fielder Kelly Grieve got the Lady Vol offense going in the bottom of the first by beating out a bunt for a lead-off single. A groundout from senior left fielder Lillian Hammond moved the runner into scoring position with one down.

Facing a two-strike count at the plate, Huff lifted a ball into left center that fell in-between three Oklahoma defenders for a double as Grieve scored, cutting the deficit to 5-1. Spigner followed with a long single that rattled off the wall in right as Huff plated Tennessee's second run. A fielder's choice and a strikeout ended the 40-minute inning, but not before UT had cut into Oklahoma's advantage.

Hosfield entered the contest in relief of Pieroni starting the second. Despite a lead-off walk issued to Flores and a fielding error by the Lady Vol outfield, the Murfreesboro, Tenn., native settled down to retire Vandever and Norris by fly outs and Long on a bouncer to second, keeping the game at 5-2, OU.

Lapicki opened the bottom of the second with a double into the right center field gap. Up next, Pieroni grounded a ball to first that traveled straight to Ricketts. She corralled the ball, pivoted and cut down Lapicki trying to advance to third for the first out. That took the steam out of the Big Orange scoring chance as a groundout from freshman shortstop Ashley Andrews and a K ended the second with no damage.

After Oklahoma, 17-5, was quickly retired in order in the top half by Hosfield, Hammond christened the bottom of the third by beating out a perfect slap single to deep short. Spigner immediately ripped a RBI-two-bagger into the gap in left center, allowing Hammond to race around from first as the score tightened to 5-3. Webb came close to adding a base hit, but Oklahoma's Sallis made a running over-the-shoulder catch in right for a big second out. Freshman designated player Shelby Burchell grounded routinely to second, on a 3-2 offering from reliever Allee Allen, as the inning came to a close.

OU's offense threatened again in the top of the fourth as back-to-back singles from Flores and Ricketts set the Sooners up with a pair of runners aboard and just one out. Hosfield responded by striking out Vandever and inducing a groundout from Norris as the duo was left stranded.

Following a quiet fifth inning for both teams, Anderson started the sixth for OU with a clean single through the right side of the infield. Sallis reached via a lazy bunt toward third as Oklahoma again boasted a pair of runners on base, this time with none retired. Hosfield forced Flores to fly out to Hammond in foul ground outside of left field for the first retirement. Webb handled a fielder's choice from Ricketts to catch the runner at second base, and Vandever fouled out to Huff behind the dish to conclude the frame.

Spigner just missed a home run starting the sixth by driving a long blast foul down the left field line, before eventually grounding out. Webb didn't miss, however, bombing her third homer of the season deep over the wall in right center, cutting the gap to 5-4. With two down in the inning, Lapicki added a double over Anderson's head in center, placing the potential tying run aboard. Pieroni strode to the plate in a huge spot, facing Sooner relief pitcher Samantha Bachman.

Quickly down 1-2 in the count, the Madison, Tenn., native helped Tennessee complete its climb out of the huge first inning hole with a clutch RBI single to right as freshman pinch runner Holly Baker roared around third to plate the tying score. Oklahoma re-entered Kirsten Allen into the contest to pitch and she settled things down, retiring Andrews on a bouncer back to the circle. It wasn't quick enough, though, as Webb and Pieroni's heroics brought Tennessee all the way back from a five-run deficit.

Norris started Oklahoma's half of the seventh by ripping the first Hosfield offering to center for a lead-off single. Long tried to sacrifice the runner over via bunt, but failed to get the job done as she looked at strike three on the outside edge. Trott laced a shot to Spigner, as the freshman made the play, spun completely around and gunned down the runner at first as pinch runner Krystle Huey advanced into scoring position with two outs. Dobbs was popped-up on the infield as Webb squeezed the orb, bringing up the top of the Lady Vol order with the chance to end the game in regulation.

Tennessee's Grieve, Hammond and Huff were retired in order by OU hurler Kirsten Allen in the seventh, despite Huff's promising fly ball traveling to deep left, to force extra innings for the fifth time in UT's season.

That brought about the famed international tiebreaker in the top of the eighth as Dobbs was placed on second to start the inning. Pinch hitter Chana'e Jones quickly got in front of Hosfield 3-0 before looking at strike one. Jones dropped a sacrifice bunt and was thrown out by Spigner at first. The home plate ump ruled the batter left the box early and was out, however, forcing Dobbs to retreat from third back to second on the play by rule.

Hosfield came through with a huge strikeout of Sallis for the second out as Tennessee got closer to keeping OU off the board in the tiebreaker format. The dangerous Flores stepped into the box and lifted a fly to left center, but Hammond raced in from her defensive position to squeeze the sphere for the third out.

Redshirt sophomore Natalee Weissinger opened the bottom half of the eighth at second, and was soon joined by Spigner via an intentional walk. That brought up Webb, who already had a clutch three-run triple in Friday night's 4-1 win over Oklahoma, facing a huge spot. Once again the Hemet, Calif., native came through by lacing a game-winning two-bagger off the wall in center as Weissinger roared around to score the winning run in the 6-5 triumph.

No. 7 Tennessee completes "The Preview" presented by WORTH on Sunday, at 10 a.m. CT, in a rematch with No. 16 Northwestern at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla. Live stats will be available through via Gametracker.

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