In front of a sold out crowd of 1,773 Orange-clad faithful on Friday night at the Lee Softball Stadium, the #6 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (42-9, 20-6 Southeastern Conference) picked up its 15th-straight win overall and its 11th-consecutive SEC victory by topping Ole Miss in the two teams' series opener, 5-1.
The Big Orange banged out eight hits in the triumph, even invoking some of its patented fifth-inning magic by plating two runs during a fifth-frame outburst. UT has now totaled a staggering 33 tallies during the fifth over the course of its 15-game winning streak, accounting for 40% of Tennessee's total offensive output over that span.
Sophomore shortstop Madison Shipman (1-for-4, double, two RBIs) continued her impressive work at the plate, knocking in two more runs to give her a SEC-best 56 RBIs for the campaign. Junior second baseman Lauren Gibson was 1-for-2 with a two-RBI single and junior third baseman Raven Chavanne was 2-for-4 with two runs and a RBI while raising her season average to a squad-best .420 and reaching base successfully for the 31st-straight contest. Junior right fielder Kat Dotson was 2-for-3 with a pair of tallies, sophomore left fielder Melissa Davin was a perfect 1-for-1 with a run scored and two walks and sophomore center fielder Tory Lewis was 1-for-2.
In the circle sophomore Ellen Renfroe improved to 26-3 overall and 13-3 in league action, allowing a single run on one hit with five walks and eight strikeouts over 4.2 innings of effort. Junior Ivy Renfroe earned her third save of the year by permitting just one hit with three K's in 2.1 frames of relief.
"It's always good to get the first win in a series," Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Karen Weekly said. "It's an important series for us, the last one of the season. We really want to play well this weekend. Ellen (Renfroe) had a rough start, which is really uncharacteristic for her. She battled through it, kept us in the game and held the score down so we could get a few runs on the board. What can you say about Ivy (Renfroe)? She comes into the game with the bases loaded and their best RBI producer at the plate and gets a big out. That was huge for us to stop Ole Miss' momentum."
Ole Miss wasted no time jumping in front on the scoreboard in the top of the first, taking advantage of three walks and a wild pitch to nab a 1-0 advantage. Second baseman Corrine Doornberg opened the frame with a free pass, swiping second to reach scoring position with one down. After shortstop Allison Brown walked, first baseman Londen Ladner hit a ball to short that Shipman fielded before firing high to second. On the play Gibson made a leaping grab and managed to tag the base in time for the second out of the frame. With the bags packed after a free pass issued to third baseman Cali Overbeck, Ellen Renfroe unleashed a wild pitch as Doornberg scored easily from third for a 1-0 lead. A big strikeout of designated player Erinn Jayjohn limited the damage to just a single tally as Ole Miss left a pair stranded.
Gibson became the initial base runner of the evening for Tennessee via a lead-off walk starting the bottom of the second. Senior designated player Shelby Burchell absolutely ripped a shot up the middle but it was caught on a short hop stab by pitcher Kendall Bruning. The hurler pivoted quickly and started a 1-6-3 double play to clear the base paths of Lady Vols and end any potential threat.
Davin got a Big Orange scoring opportunity underway in the bottom of the third, leading off the frame with a base knock via a high bouncer over the infield and then swiping her fifth base of the year. Despite a pair of K's that threatened to kill the outburst before it even started and with Davin at third after a passed ball, Chavanne tied the contest at 1-1 via a RBI infield single. Following a walk to Dotson, Shipman blasted a two-run double, her team-leading 10th of the season, off the Lee Stadium wall, pushing the Lady Vols to a 3-1 advantage.
With two outs in the top of the fifth and Ole Miss center fielder Dallas Hardin stationed at first following a walk, a UT throwing error on a grounder allowed the lead runner to move to third and Doornberg to roll into second. A free pass issued to left fielder Brittany Broome ended Ellen Renfroe's stint in the circle as sister Ivy entered in relief facing a save situation. The Jackson, Tenn., native immediately got Tennessee out of the bases-loaded threat, inducing a pop-up from shortstop and No. 3-hitter Allison Brown as Gibson made the inning-ending grab.
Having escaped a jam in the previous half-frame, Tennessee again pulled out some of its patented fifth-inning magic, plating two runs on three hits during the bottom of the fifth. The speed game again got things going as Chavanne and Dotson each singled and swiped bases to place a pair of Lady Vols in scoring position. With one down Gibson stepped into the batter's box and contributed a two-RBI single as the UT lead expanded to a more comfortable 5-1.
A one-out single from Overbeck got the Rebels in business briefly in the top of the sixth, but not for long as Jayjohn hit a shot that was caught by junior first baseman Melissa Brown just off the ground. The Valencia, Calif., native turned quickly and stepped on the bag at first to record a big inning-ending double play.
The Big Orange nearly added to its lead in the bottom of the sixth but left the bases loaded as the two teams went to the seventh with Ole Miss having one final chance to get back in the contest.
Ivy Renfroe wouldn't allow the Rebels to get anything started in finishing out the victory, however, striking out the side in order as Natalie Nimmo, Hardin and Lauren Lindsey went down via K.
Tennessee and Ole Miss return to action at the Lee Softball Stadium on Sat., April 28, at 1 p.m. ET in a game slated for live television broadcast via SportSouth.
The University of Tennessee