Tennessee has never lost its opening contest at the annual WCWS (now 4-0), having previously defeated No. 3 Arizona (1-0 in 2005), No. 1 UCLA (4-3 in 2006) and No. 7 Texas A&M (2-0 in 2007). The Big Orange is 11-6 all-time at the WCWS and now owns a 5-3 advantage in its series versus the Wildcats at collegiate softball's premier event.
"Let me first say that Arizona is a storied and a strong and a great program run by a great staff," Tennessee Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. "Every time we play them it's a challenge and again tonight our kids came out really fired up.
"They played very hard, would not be denied and a lot of things went our way. But a lot of the breaks we made, too."
Arizona Head Coach Mike Candrea said, "First off I would like to congratulate Tennessee for doing their job. On the other hand, it was a very difficult game to go through for a couple of reasons. I don't know how many illegal pitches there were, but that kind of set the tone for the game and, illegal or not illegal, I think one of the big things that is confusing to us as coaches is you play all year to get to here and what they were calling tonight has never been called.
"So how does the kid fix it when she thinks she hasn't done anything wrong? Second thing is, I believe that if the rule came from the coaches association, which most things do in our sport, it might be a little easier to understand because the way the interpretations have come this year, they came in February and they started calling all of these illegal pitches.
"I would think that in most sports, if you're going to make changes on the interpretation of a rule, then do it in August or September and give people warning as to what you're going to call and how you're going to call it.
"All I can say right now, I don't feel sorry for us. Although I think at this arena, this young lady (pitcher Kenzie Fowler) deserved a lot more than what she got tonight and really made it tough. On the other hand, we didn't do much to help ourselves out offensively.
"But you know, at this time of the year you have to play all parts of the game. You have to pitch, play defense, get some timely hits. You can't have anything that goes on vacation when you get to the College World Series, and tonight we just made it tough on ourselves and they took advantage."
Freshman starting pitcher Ivy Renfroe kept on rolling for Tennessee in the postseason, firing a complete-game, three-hitter with six strikeouts in improving to 30-4 on the season.
"She (Karen Weekly) calls the pitches and I just throw them where she puts them," Renfroe said. "We have to work on, when playing big teams like Arizona, hitting our spots. She usually calls pitches and I throw them where she calls them."
Renfroe joins former Lady Vol Monica Abbott as the only UT pitchers to ever post 30 wins in a single campaign and also to register a pitching win in the WCWS.
Senior first baseman Erinn Webb and sophomore third baseman Jessica Spigner each went 1-for-2 at the plate with a double and two RBIs to lead the Lady Vol offense.
Freshman second baseman Lauren Gibson and senior designated player Nicole Kajitani also knocked in single runs as part of 1-for-3 efforts. Freshman right fielder Kat Dotson, senior catcher Tiffany Huff and junior center fielder Kelly Grieve all scored twice in the contest, while rookie left fielder Raven Chavanne reached three different times, twice by walk and once via a hit by pitch, from her lead-off spot in the order.
With the assistance of three illegal pitches by Arizona starter Kenzie Fowler, Chavanne opened the WCWS contest with a walk. The speedster from Thousand Oaks, Calif., swiped her team-best 36th base of the season to reach scoring position, but got thrown out at third via a fielder's choice on a bouncer back to the circle from Grieve.
With two down in the first, Grieve stole second and was joined on the base paths by Spigner via a hit by pitch. A looking strikeout ended the inning with no damage, but Tennessee did make Fowler work during the opening frame as the hurler tossed 26 pitches and allowed three base runners.
"The way it's defined, it's an illegal pitch," Weekly said. "There are a lot of pitchers pitching illegal in the country. I will definitely not make a comment on Arizona's pitchers. That's their business and that's between them and the umpires.
"I never requested any assistance; our team never suggested she was pitching illegal. There are a lot of people jumping in the air and getting a big pushoff. We had that happen with us early on (this season) and we corrected it. That's why we don't get called for it."
UA lead-off hitter Brittany Lastrapes wasted no time getting the Wildcat offense going in the bottom half of the first, driving a two-strike pitch into the gap in right center for a double. An 11-pitch battle between Renfroe and center fielder Lauren Schutzler resulted in a liner right to sophomore Ashley Andrews at short for the first out.
From there UT's 5-10 righthander handled a sharp bouncer back to the circle by shortstop K'Lee Arredondo and got catcher Stacie Chambers to fly out to deep left to waste the lead-off two-bagger.
The left-stranded count grew to five through two frames for the Lady Vols as Tennessee loaded the bases during the top of the second on walks issued to Webb, Andrews and Chavanne. Unfortunately with two retired, Dotson flew out to mid-range left to end the inning with no damage on the scoreboard.
Renfroe was seriously dealing from the circle, striking out the Arizona side in the bottom of the second. The Jackson, Tenn., native got UA third baseman Bridgette Del Ponte and designated player Lini Koria swinging and then caught second baseman Kristen Arriola looking at a pitch down the middle to send the scoreless contest on to the third.
Tennessee finally broke out in front on the scoreboard in the top of the third on the benefit of four walks, numerous Fowler illegal pitches and a two-RBI double by Webb.
"I asked what I was doing wrong," Fowler said. "I was leaving the mound when I took off. I've never been called for it in my life, but obviously I need to fix it within 48 hours."
After Grieve walked to open the frame and advanced to second on a Spigner sac bunt, an illegal pitch and free passes issued to Huff and Gibson loaded the bases with one down.
Another illegal offering brought in Grieve with the game's initial tally as UT nabbed a 1-0 lead. Webb stepped to the dish and drilled a double into the right center field gap, scoring two more, as the Lady Vols made it 3-0.
"I want to finish my senior season strong," Webb said. "I want to be a leader for this team. These girls deserve it and I want to be able to help them keep continuing in this tournament. We have a never-die attitude and we fight. I am going to be there fighting with them and giving them everything I have."
A wild offering and another illegal pitch, the eighth called to that point in the contest, allowed Webb to eventually make her way to the plate from second as the lead expanded to four runs.
After four consecutive strikeouts by Renfroe, Arizona right fielder Karissa Buchanan managed an infield hit in the bottom of the third as her short pop dropped just in front of a charging Andrews at short. A sac bunt improved the runner to scoring position with two retired, but Renfroe K'ed Schutzler to keep the Wildcats off the board through three complete.
The UT speed game was off and running starting the top of the fourth as Dotson and Grieve managed back-to-back singles to the circle. Spigner bounced to short and the ball managed to get under Arredondo's glove for an error and into left center as Dotson raced across to make it 5-0, Big Orange. Run-scoring singles from Gibson and Kajitani pushed the advantage to a staggering 7-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth.
In the top of the fifth, Chavanne was struck by a pitch leading off the frame and Dotson walked. That set the stage for a one-out double from Spigner to the wall in left center as Tennessee's lead expanded to an incredible, 9-0.
From there it was up to Renfroe to see if she could finish off her complete-game shutout. She did just that by getting Arriola, first baseman Baillie Kirker and Buchanan in order to wrap up a stunning, opening-game blanking of Arizona.
"If you look on paper, they are a stronger team than we are," Weekly said. "I think our kids have a lot of heart this time of the season. We are trying to win the best way we can win and we are trying to have a game plan that helps us that way."
Tennessee (48-13) improved to 4-0 in Women's College World Series openers with a 9-0 run-rule win (five innings) over Arizona (48-12.
Tennessee improved to 38-4 this year when it scores first, 40-3 when leading after four innings and 24-2 when it scores five or more runs.
Tonight's game marked Tennessee's first run-rule victory in the Women's College World Series. The Lady Vols improved to 11-6 in their four WCWS appearances and to 38-16 in the NCAA tournament.
Tennessee has scored at least three runs in an inning 62 times this season following its four-run third inning and three-run fourth frame tonight. The Lady Vols have recorded at least one three-run inning in 44 of their 61 games this season.
Tennessee improved to 5-3 all-time against Arizona in the Women's College World Series.
Tonight's game marked Tennessee's 19th run-rule victory this season. The Lady Vols have won 20 games this season by at least nine runs.
Tennessee drew a WCWS-record-tying nine walks in the game.
Tennessee freshman Ivy Renfroe threw her 13th complete game and sixth solo shutout of the season in her Women's College World Series debut.
Renfroe notched her 30th win this year against four losses. She joined Monica Abbott as the only two pitchers in Tennessee history to reach the 30-victory plateau.
Erinn Webb entered today's game as one of just three Tennessee players with Women's College World Series experience. The senior recorded her 40th-career double and drove in her 121st and 122nd runs.
Arizona, making its 22nd WCWS appearance, dropped to 57-30 in the event and to 139-39 in the NCAA tournament.
The last time Arizona scored a run in the Women's College World Series was in 2008 when the Wildcats lost to Alabama, 5-1.
The Wildcats have gone 33 innings without scoring an earned run in the WCWS and have been outscored 32-1 in their last five WCWS games. The last time Arizona scored an earned run in the event was in 2007 when it beat Tennessee, 5-0.