On a blisteringly hot Saturday afternoon in front of 1,822 Orange-clad fans at the sold out Lee Softball Stadium, the #5 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (51-11) climbed ever closer to a berth in the annual Women's College World Series by taking the opener of the NCAA Knoxville Super Regional from #11 Georgia (44-16), 3-2.
Senior designated player Shelby Burchell continued her hot hitting at the plate, going 2-for-2 with a walk and a key two-RBI single during the bottom of the third. The Columbia, Tenn., native is hitting an impressive .556 (10-for-18) with five doubles and six RBIs over UT's six NCAA Tournament games.
Junior third baseman Raven Chavanne was 1-for-2 with a RBI, improving her streak of reaching base safely to 41 consecutive games and her hitting streak to 14 straight contests. Junior second baseman Lauren Gibson (1-for-2), sophomore shortstop Madison Shipman (1-for-3, run) and junior first baseman Melissa Brown (1-for-3) each registered one of Tennessee's six total hits off Georgia starter Erin Arevalo.
In the circle junior Ivy Renfroe (24-8) continued her roll, picking up the 19th win over her last 21 decisions dating back to March 21. The Jackson, Tenn., product allowed two runs on six hits, walked one and struck out seven in tossing her 10th complete game of the season.
"Crazy game," Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. "That's what you expect from Super Regionals. I'm proud of our girls, and proud of how they fought. I'm especially proud of Ivy (Renfroe) and how she toughed it out. The Bulldogs gave us everything they had. Erin Arevalo is a very good pitcher, and she is a challenge, just like Ivy Renfroe is a very good pitcher. It's amazing that our two teams have to compete with so much at stake. Georgia has so many great players, and everyone is fighting. I expect the same tomorrow."
Tennessee's Renfroe wasted no time exerting her influence from the circle in the top of the first, getting first baseman Tess Sito via a routine groundout to second before posting consecutive strikeouts of second baseman Ashley Pauly and shortstop Paige Wilson.
Arevalo held up her end of the early pitcher's duel in the bottom half of the first, getting a pair of Lady Vol K's and a pop-up for a one-two-three inning.
With UT's hurler rolling from the circle, Burchell became the first base runner of the contest for either team, drawing a walk to christen the bottom of the second. Following a perfect sacrifice bunt off the bat of Gibson, sophomore left fielder Melissa Davin battled Arevalo over eight pitches in drawing the second free pass of the inning for the Lady Vols. Unfortunately, a foul out down the left field line and a routine grounder to short left the Tennessee duo stranded on the base paths.
The Big Orange's nation-leading defense made itself visible starting the top of the third as a terrific defensive play by Andrews kept Georgia's lead-off from reaching. UGA left fielder Niaja Griffin dropped a bunt up the first base line, forcing UT's senior catcher to race out from behind the plate. She scooped the ball on the run and made an underhanded toss to junior Melissa Brown at first, nailing the runner by a step.
Lewis managed to get a vital Orange & White scoring outburst underway in the bottom of the third by starting the frame with a free pass. With the speedster located on second following a sac bunt, Shipman picked up the contest's initial hit on a swinging bunt back to the circle. The Valencia, Calif., native swiped her 20th base of the season, reaching scoring position with two down. The set the stage for a clutch bloop single by Burchell, that dropped just on the grass, plating a pair of Lady Vols for a 2-0 advantage.
The Bulldogs attempted to answer right back in the top of the fourth, loading the bases with one out via singles from Sito and shortstop Paige Wilson and a hit by pitch for catcher Kristyn Sandberg. Renfroe rose to the challenge in a major way, however, posting consecutive strikeouts of designated player Ashley Razey and right fielder Christine Olney as UGA left the bases packed.
A lead-off single by Brown was eventually cashed in for what proved to be a vital insurance tally by the Lady Vols. With two down in the bottom of the fourth, Chavanne ripped a single into the outfield, plating freshman pinch runner Hannah Trainer from second for a 3-0 lead.
Georgia loaded the bases once again in the top of the fifth against Renfroe via a double by Griffin, a walk from third baseman Gracie Goulder and a one-out hit-by-pitch for Sito. UT's 6-0 right-hander again escaped the jam, registering her sixth strikeout of the contest and then inducing a routine bouncer to first from Wilson to raise UGA's left stranded count to a half dozen.
A single to begin the top of the sixth by Sandberg and a double that just eluded a leaping Whitney Hammond at the wall in left from Razey granted the 'Dawgs another huge scoring threat. This time the Red & Black would cash in as a RBI single by Olney and a RBI groundout by Griffin quickly cut the Big Orange lead to just 3-2. Goulder stepped into the batter's box with one retired and hit a slow roller to second. Gibson charged the ball, corralled it and threw quickly to Andrews at the plate who applied the tag on Olney to maintain Tennessee's tenuous advantage. Attempting to get the potential tying run in scoring position, Goulder was cut down via a caught stealing as Andrews fired a strike to Shipman covering the second base bag to end the outburst.
UGA had one final offensive chance in the top of the seventh but Renfroe wouldn't be denied, striking out Brittney Hubbard and getting both Sito and Pauly to groundout to end the game.
The University of Tennessee