Kat Dotson on Lady Vols softball win against LSU
Tory Lewis on Lady Vols softball win against LSU
A weekend of Tennessee softball celebration culminated with a jubilant circle of Lady Vols dancing around home plate and LSU's catcher spiking the ball into the dirt.
A record-crowd of 1,845 converged on Lee Stadium on Sunday afternoon to watch 10th-ranked UT run-rule the 22nd-ranked Tigers, 10-2, before a national ESPN television audience.
Overflow fans watched from the top row of Regal Soccer Stadium as the Lady Vols (35-9, 16-6 SEC) completed a three-game sweep over LSU (29-13, 11-6) to run their win streak to eight games.
UT pinch-hitter Hannah Akamine brought the eight-run mercy rule into effect in the bottom of the sixth inning, delivering a two-RBI single that sparked the celebration.
"I had a feeling Akamine would come through," said UT co-head coach Ralph Weekly, who batted the freshman despite her .207 batting average. "She can hit, she just needs to have that confidence."
The Lady Vols trailed 2-0 entering the fifth inning against LSU ace Rachel Fico (14-6), who brought an SEC-best 0.81 ERA into the series.
"We just said before the inning, 'We need to get something going,' " said UT senior Shelby Burchell, who delivered the go-ahead hit in the fifth inning, a three-RBI double in the left-center field gap that cleared the bases and put the Lady Vols up 4-2.
The hits kept coming, as UT sent 10 batters to the plate before exiting the fifth up 5-2.
Junior Ivy Renfroe (13-6) had come on in relief of her sister, Ellen Renfroe, with one out in the fourth and UT down 2-0 as a result of the Tigers' two-run
Ivy Renfroe proceeded to retire the eight batters she faced, keeping LSU's at-bats short and allowing UT to build momentum.
The Lady Vols struck for five more runs in the sixth after All-American Kat Dotson opened the inning with a slap single, her game-high third hit of the contest.
Dotson — like the UT offense — has only recently gotten into form. Dotson underwent knee surgery last July to repair a torn meniscus in her left knee and missed fall practice.
After batting .391 as a freshman and .401 last season, Dotson brought a .316 average into Sunday.
"I started the year slow, but as the season has gone on, I've improved and gained confidence," Dotson said. "My coaches and teammates have helped me through it; that means so much."
Indeed, with Dotson robbed of some of her elite speed after the surgery, the left-hander from Savannah, Ga., tried to adjust her hitting at the start of the season.
"We started the season with me being just a hitter, and not so much of a speed player," said Dotson, who gained All-American status with her slap-hitting game. "But now I feel good when I run, and I'm working back into my short game.
"This has been a long time coming."
The emergence of slap-hitter Tory Lewis in the nine-hole — the speedy sophomore doubled to spark the Lady Vols' five-run fifth — allows Weekly to return to an old UT offensive formula.
"Our game plan is 9-1-2," Weekly said, referring to three consecutive slappers in the batting order, Lewis, followed by leadoff hitter Raven Chavanne and Dotson. "We play the speed game, and everyone else tries to bring them home."
It worked on Sunday, as evidenced by the Tennessee dugout pouring onto the field to celebrate at home plate.
"I'm starting to believe," Weekly said, "this team could have a pretty deep postseason run."