Shelby Burchell's blast lifts UT over Kentucky, 4-2

Senior Shelby Burchell, Tennessee's active leading home-run hitter, didn't hit her first home run in 2012 until Sunday, in the Lady Vols' 35th game of this season.

April Fools?

Nope, Burchell's blast was a two-run, walk-off home run that lifted the ninth-ranked Lady Vols to a 4-2 victory over Kentucky before a crowd of 1,573 at Lee Stadium.

"I was just trying to get a hit for the team and move Lauren (Gibson) around,'' said Burchell, who drove Chanda Bell's 2-2 offering over the center-field wall with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning and All-American Lauren Gibson on first base.

Gibson, who hit a solo home run earlier in the game, was returning to first to tag when she saw the game-winner clear the fence.

"We just started shouting at each other; it was exciting,'' Gibson said. "Heading into the series with Georgia, we needed this kind of momentum.''

The Lady Vols (27-8, 9-5 SEC) have won five straight against the 10th-ranked Bulldogs (29-7, 8-4) heading into Wednesday's doubleheader (5 p.m.) at Lee Stadium.

Sunday's win over Kentucky (16-19, 3-6) gives UT an opportunity to overtake Georgia for second in the SEC East Division, which would impact SEC tournament seeding and bidding to host NCAA Regionals and NCAA Super Regionals.

Burchell, whose 25 career homers tie her for fifth on the Lady Vols' all-time list, knows all about postseason drama. Her most recent home run prior to Sunday came in UT's season-ending 6-5 loss to Oklahoma State in last season's NCAA Regional, and her most recent walk-off home run was in the SEC tournament championship game in a 6-5 win over Georgia.

Burchell admits her homer-less at-bats earlier this season had left her frustrated, particularly after she hit 15 out last season — which represented the third-highest single-season total in program history.

"I came into this season thinking it was my job to hit home runs and I needed to carry that load,'' said Burchell, a utility player from Columbia who was batting in the designated player spot on Sunday. "But right around the Arkansas series (March 16-18), I decided I should step back, and go back to a see-it, hit-it approach.''

Burchell said she was seeing a lot of inside pitches from Kentucky and talked to UT co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly about the trend after the teams split the first two games of this weekend series, with Kentucky winning 5-3 on Friday, and the Lady Vols scoring an 8-0 decision on Saturday.

The Weeklys, who charted every pitch that each of their hitters had seen from Kentucky over the past six games, encouraged Burchell to modify her stance to improve her chances of making solid contact with the inside pitch.

No one was more relieved to see Burchell's home run than Ellen Renfroe (19-2), who entered the circle to replace her older sister, Ivy Renfroe, with the score tied 1-1 with one out in the top of the fifth.

Ellen Renfroe allowed just one hit and one walk in her 2 2/3 innings of relief, but she also uncorked a wild pitch that allowed the Wildcats to tie the game at 2-2 in the top of the seventh.

"It was just one of those pitches that gets away from you,'' said Ellen Renfroe, who has 11 wild pitches in the 146 innings. "I just had to settle down and not think about it, flush it. I knew we still could win in the bottom of the inning.

"Seeing a home run was so exciting for all of us, and it was great to see Shelby get the big hit.''

It also was convenient; the gentle sprinkle that was falling when Burchell ended the game turned into a downpour a few minutes after the Lady Vols erupted from their dugout to greet the senior hero.

"By the time you're a senior, people have seen you a lot and know how to pitch you,'' Karen Weekly said. "You just have to expand your game, and with Shelby, you always feel you have a shot when she's at the plate.''

Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32

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Comments » 2

gwbask writes:

good win! Important games on Wed.

AlexAndersonAAradio writes:

Why has Shelby spent much of the season batting in the bottom part of the lineup. She should bat now lower than 5th. I think that has a lot to do with her slump. All time leading home run hitter bats 7th?

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