Softball team crushes OOC competition

The Lady Vol softball team has dispatched Tennessee Tech and Presbyterian in impressive fashion with a showdown looming this Friday in a double-header against SEC East Division foe Florida with just two weeks left in the regular season.

Earlier this week, the No. 17 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (38-8) blasted three home runs, including two shots by senior catcher Tiffany Huff, to support a two-hit, complete-game shutout from Ivy Renfroe in the 10-0 win over Tennessee Tech in six innings at Tech Softball Field in Cookeville, Tenn.

Freshman second baseman Lauren Gibson blasted her fifth homer of the year while going 2-for-4 with three RBIs. Sophomore third baseman Jessica Spigner, sophomore shortstop Ashley Andrews and rookie right fielder Kat Dotson each recorded an RBI. Freshman left fielder Raven Chavanne went 2-for-3 with a walk and raised her season average to .510 overall.

Renfroe, a freshman, picked up her 23rd victory of the season, striking out a career-high 10 batters.

"These are the types of games that you have to come out really ready to play," Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. "Our players were ready, putting up a five-spot in the first inning to grab control of the game. Tennessee Tech can be dangerous if you allow them to stick around. Tiffany Huff and Lauren Gibson were both great at the plate, and we got another good outing in the circle from Ivy Renfroe."

Last weekend, a complete "team effort" from the softball team garnered two 9-1 wins (five innings and six innings) in a doubleheader against the Blue Hose of Presbyterian College in Knoxville.

The term "team effort" is a common one, but Weekly thought it epitomized Tennessee this year. A different Lady Vol manages to stand out while everyone contributes.

"I just think it's been a team effort, and I know all coaches say that, but I think our freshmen have really contributed heavily, specifically Ivy, Raven, and Kat Dotson," Weekly said. "I think it's almost a different hero every day, which is probably good. I haven't looked at the stats. I think Spigner did really good, and Erinn Webb, who's been struggling a little bit, had a really good day. I don't know. I think it's been somebody different almost all the time. I just think everybody's playing hard, working hard, and that's why we've been successful."

To start the first game against Presbyterian, freshman Chavanne walked, and then promptly stole second. After a groundout, Dotson was hit hard in the knee by a pitch and granted first base. She then easily stole second to give Tennessee two runners in scoring position with only one out. Then, Spigner, almost as if on cue, ripped a single into left field for a quick 2-0 lead.

The game would not get interesting again for Tennessee until the fourth inning. After senior designated player Nicole Kajitani walked, Webb blasted a homerun to tack on two more runs. After Tennessee loaded the bases, Spigner hustled out an infield single for an RBI, freshman second baseman Melissa Brown was hit by a pitch to force in a run, and Kajitani cleared the bases with a double to give Tennessee a 9-0 lead.

Renfroe pitched the first game in its entirety and had a perfect game going through four innings until allowing the only hit of the game, a homerun, to senior Blue Hose first baseman Rachel Parker. No other Presbyterian hitters reached base through, and Renfroe preserved the 9-1 victory in five innings.

"Ivy did well in the first game," Weekly said.

The games like these, against lesser competition based on record and in between the SEC schedule, are tough OOC (out of conference) games that Weekly thinks reveal the true character of a team. According to Weekly, Tennessee should beat those teams if it wants to be considered a good team.

"I think these are the toughest games to play in the middle of a conference schedule, and you got a team coming in here that's got some good pitching but not doing well in some other parts of their order," Weekly said. "I think if you want to be strong in any sport, you've got to win the games you're supposed to, and these were a couple games that we were supposed to win. Our kids played hard."

The second game began much like the first in that at the end of the first inning, the scoreboard read 2-0 Tennessee. More fireworks did not take long; a Spigner three-run homerun in the next inning put the Lady Vols on top 6-0 after Brown scored on an error.

Lady Vol sophomore pitcher Cat Hosfield, the starting pitcher for game two, got into a bit of trouble in the fifth. After allowing a couple of hits, Presbyterian managed to score a run.

"Cat has been experiencing one tough inning a game," Weekly said. "Cat's a very good pitcher. I don't know why that happens. We're working on it. She had four good innings and had one not so good inning."

Though it was a tough inning, Hosfield did manage to get out of the jam on her own as the Blue Hose lost a few scoring opportunities. When those tough innings come, Spigner said teammates pick up each other in the figurative sense.

"We say we've got your back," Spigner said. "That's the way we work. If our pitchers are struggling, we know our hitters can do it. If one hitter's struggling, another hitter can do it. We all have that feeling about everyone that we've got each other's back. That's how we've gone through this whole season."

Renfroe was brought in for pitching relief in the sixth inning, and she struck out each batter to record three straight outs.

Tennessee promptly loaded the bases and used miscues by Presbyterian as well as clutch plays from Kajitani, Webb, and Brown to send three more runs across the plate for the 9-1 final in six innings.

The Lady Vols next take the field at home at Lee Softball Stadium for a doubleheader against Florida beginning at 5 p.m. Friday. A 1 p.m. game against the Gators is scheduled for Saturday. Florida is 14-3 in the East Division of the SEC while Tennessee is 14-4.

The Lady Vols take a trip to Alabama on May 1-2 and then host LSU May 8-9 to close the regular season.

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