It's back to the Women's College World Series for the fifth time in program history as the #5 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (52-12) fought off a stern challenge from #11 Georgia (45-17) on Sunday afternoon at the Lee Softball Stadium to advance back to Oklahoma City, Okla., with a thrilling 2-1 victory.
UT is scheduled to start the WCWS against #3 Alabama on Thurs., May 31, at 7 p.m. CT live on ESPN2. To purchase tickets for the event, please call (866) 208-0048 or visit NCAA.com.
The Big Orange has now successfully advanced in all five of its visits to the NCAA Super Regionals, possessing a 10-3 overall record.
Senior designated player Shelby Burchell was 1-for-3 with a vital RBI, while junior right fielder Kat Dotson was 1-for-2 with a double and the sacrifice fly that plated the winning tally. Junior third baseman Raven Chavanne posted a team-best two hits in three at-bats and scored a run, while junior second baseman Lauren Gibson was 1-for-2 with a run.
Junior Ivy Renfroe continued her incredible roll, allowing one run on three hits with two walks and six strikeouts while picking up her 25th victory of the season. It marked her 20th win over her last 22 decisions in the circle dating back to March 21.
"First of all, I'm very excited, and I'm very proud," Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. "We've played five games against Georgia, and four of them have been one-run games. We kept telling our kids, 'Somebody's going to find a way; somebody's going to find a way.' And we really erupted when we needed it.
"It was a team victory; it was a senior-led victory. Our senior leadership has been amazing these last few weeks. Our pitching and defense were as strong as ever, and our hitting just needed a little time to come around but I think that might have been (Georgia pitcher Erin) Arevalo. That's a very strong performance that she put on out there.
"I give a lot of credit to Georgia; they are a great team. And as I said two days ago, both of us are World Series teams but thank goodness it's us."
After the Lady Vol offense wasted a lead-off single from Chavanne in the top of the first, Georgia wasted no time threatening in the bottom half by putting two on via a two-out base knock from shortstop Paige Wilson and an intentional walk to catcher Kristyn Sandberg. Designated player Ashley Razey stepped to the plate and ripped a shot to center but it traveled right to sophomore Tory Lewis for an important third out.
With two retired in the bottom of the second, Bulldog third baseman Gracie Goulder laced a shot the other way down the left field line for a double. Renfroe bore down from the circle in response, however, getting her second strikeout of the inning by catching Couey swinging at a pitch off the plate.
Tennessee's Dotson made a terrific play, with a Bulldog stationed at first, to end UGA's half of the third. The Savannah, Ga., native raced back on a drive off the bat of Sandberg and made a grab while colliding into the Lee Stadium wall.
Goulder battled to draw a lead-off walk off Renfroe to begin the bottom of the fifth, quickly advancing all the way around within 60 feet of pay dirt via a groundout and a wild pitch. That set the stage for a 13-pitch battle between Renfroe and Sito. UT's 6-0 right hander won the battle via strikeout, but suffered a stroke of bad fortune as the wild offering bounced away on the swing, allowing Sito to reach first and Goulder to score for a 1-0 lead.
As she has done so often in her Big Orange career, it was Chavanne who got the crucial UT attack started with an infield single starting the top of the sixth. Gibson followed with an infield base knock, but made her best contribution on the base paths. Sophomore shortstop Madison Shipman hit a bouncer to second that was fielded on a hop by Ashley Pauly. The Bulldog fielder reached in an attempt to tag Gibson as she went by and did so with an empty glove while holding the ball in her opposite hand. That allowed Shipman to reach via fielder's choice and loaded the bases full of Lady Vols. Faced with a clutch situation as a senior with a chance to continue her career, Burchell delivered with a bloop RBI single as Chavanne raced home, dead-locking the count at 1-1. Dotson stepped in the batter's box and lifted a fly ball deep enough to plate Gibson from just 60 feet away as Tennessee managed its first Sunday lead at 2-1.
From there it was left to Renfroe to see if she could protect the lead and advance the Lady Vols to the WCWS. UT's hurler proved up to the task, retiring all six Bulldogs she faced over the final two frames, including a pair by strikeout, to punch Tennessee's ticket back to Oklahoma City.
The University of Tennessee