Lady Vols' run at WCWS comes to end

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – It was an incredible ride that many pundits never expected for the No. 16/15 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (49-15), that ended just one victory short of a berth in the Women's College World Series best-of-three title round, as the Lady Vols dropped a hard-fought 5-2 decision to No. 3 Arizona on Sunday at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.

By going 2-2 during the WCWS, the Big Orange finished its season tied for third on NCAA Division I softball's grandest stage and have never finished lower than third at any of the program's four WCWS appearances (2005, 2006, 2007, 2010).

Freshman left fielder Raven Chavanne (2-for-4, double, run scored, steal) and junior center fielder Kelly Grieve (2-for-4) each posted two of Tennessee's six total hits in the contest. Freshman Lauren Gibson was 1-for-1 at the dish with two walks, an RBI and a run scored, while senior catcher Tiffany Huff was 1-for-2 with a double and an RBI.

In completing her first campaign at a sterling 31-6 overall, freshman right hander Ivy Renfroe allowed five runs on 12 hits with two walks and six strikeouts over six innings of work while throwing 136 total pitches.

Chavanne got the Big Orange off to a promising start against Kenzie Fowler in the day's second contest with a single off a leaping Bridgette Del Ponte's glove at third and up the left field line. With one out in the opening frame, the UT speedster on the base paths took off and swiped her team-best 37th bag of the season to achieve scoring position.

Grieve flew out to deep left and then sophomore third baseman Jessica Spigner was hit by a pitch, putting two aboard for senior first baseman Erinn Webb. The Hemet, Calif., native coerced a walk to pack the bags full of Lady Vols with two retired. Gibson got ahead of Fowler in the count 2-0 and eventually drew a walk to force in the game's initial run as Tennessee nabbed a quick 1-0 advantage.

Heading into the match-up the Big Orange were 39-4 this year when scoring the game's first run and 28-0 when registering a tally in the first inning.

For the third straight game against the Lady Vols, left fielder Brittany Lastrapes opened Arizona's initial at-bat in the first with a double. Centerfielder Lauren Schutzler dropped the sac bunt out in front of the plate but reached for a single instead, placing runners at the corners with none out. A bouncer back to the circle from shortstop K'Lee Arredondo allowed Schutzler to improve into scoring position.

The duo was left stranded, however, as Renfroe caught catcher Stacie Chambers looking at strike three across the outside of the dish and then caught third baseman Bridgette Del Ponte swinging for the third retirement.

Inserted into the lineup as the designated player for her first start during NCAA Tournament play, freshman Melissa Brown started the top of the second by drawing a lead-off walk. With Brown at second after a Fowler illegal pitch, sophomore Ashley Andrews blasted a deep shot into the gap in left that was caught on the run on a great catch by Lastrapes.

Apparently thinking the ball had dropped safely, Brown raced all the way to the plate and was doubled off easily at second for a double play. That soon cost UT a run as Chavanne followed immediately with a double into the gap in left center. Despite a walk issued to freshman right fielder Kat Dotson, a Lady Vol strikeout ended another promising Tennessee inning with no scoreboard damage.

Arizona designated player Lini Koria battled Renfroe over a 16-pitch at-bat before drawing a lead-off walk to begin the bottom of the second. After a flyout and Arizona K, right fielder Karissa Buchanan singled back through the middle, putting two on base with two down. Renfroe responded to the threat by getting the dangerous Lastrapes swinging at an outside rise ball to conclude the frame.

A two-out single from Gibson in the top of the third seemed harmless enough, but it actually started a Lady Vol scoring rally. Huff stepped to the plate and blooped a ball into right center. It dropped in just in front of Buchanan and bounced away as shortstop Arredondo raced out into the outfield grass to attempt to track it down.

Meanwhile, Gibson raced around third towards the plate, arriving at the same time as the relay throw. An absolutely beautiful slide around the catcher Chambers by the Pasadena, Md., product granted Tennessee a huge second tally in the contest.

Schutzler got the ‘Cats going in the bottom of the third by slapping a single out to left. Arredondo bounced to short and Andrews charged in to make a great play on a short hop to just nail her at first base. That proved an important out as Chambers stepped into the batter's box and hammered a two-run homer down the left field line to deadlock the count at 2-2.

Del Ponte followed with a single just inside the chalk down the right field line and then Koria beat out an infield hit to deep short to keep the Arizona offense rolling. A solid play on a slow bouncer to Spigner at third got UT a big second out as the runners advanced to second and third. Renfroe managed another huge strikeout, getting pinch hitter Matte Haack swinging at a pitch at her eyes to leave a pair of Wildcats stranded.

Needing a spark, Grieve attempted to give Tennessee one by driving a lead-off single the other way into left starting the top of the fifth. Unfortunately, a popped up sac bunt, a foul out to left and a caught stealing on Grieve at second ended the frame with no scoring.

A lead-off base knock from Arredondo and a one-out single to center from Del Ponte plated a run to make it 3-2 Arizona in the bottom of the fifth.

Gibson walked to open the top of the sixth against Fowler and advanced to second on a sac bunt by Huff. Despite a passed ball that allowed freshman pinch runner Leah Taylor to end up at third, consecutive Lady Vol K's ended the threat with Arizona still maintaining its one-run lead.

The ‘Cats added more tallies to their advantage in the bottom of the sixth as K'Lee Arredondo blasted a two-run, two-out homer just inside the right field fair pole to give Arizona a 5-2 advantage.

Tennessee brought the top of its order up in the top of the seventh against UA's Fowler in the form of Chavanne, Dotson and Grieve. Chavanne lifted the first pitch to center for the first out and then Dotson bounced to shortstop. Grieve kept hope alive with a single into left center, but a strikeout ended the contest as Arizona prevailed 5-2.

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