UT shortstop Madison Shipman looks to Saturday
OKLAHOMA CITY — Tennessee is running out of time and excuses at the Women’s College World Series.
“There are no more tomorrows,’’ Lady Vols co-head coach Ralph Weekly said Friday. “If we’re not ready to play, the season is over.’’
Seventh-seeded Tennessee (52-13) needs to beat 11th-seeded Oregon (44-17) today (TV: ESPN2, 2:30 p.m.) to advance into an elimination game (TV: ESPN, 9:30 p.m.) against top-seeded California (57-6). Fourth-seeded Oklahoma (52-8) defeated the Bears on Friday night.
SEC champion and second-seeded Alabama dropped the Lady Vols into the losers’ bracket Thursday night, jumping to a 4-0 first-inning lead en route to a 5-3 victory.
“We had a bad first inning, and you can’t do that against a great team like Alabama,’’ Weekly said. “But we were down to our last game after losing to Miami (Ohio) in regionals, and we faced elimination against Georgia in super regionals.
“We’ve got some practice fighting, but this is a huge mountain ahead of us.’’
If Tennessee survives today, it would need to win two games in a row Sunday against Alabama (57-7) — a 2-1 winner in Friday night’s late game against third-seeded Arizona State (52-10) — in order to advance to the best-of-three championship series.
“We had to fight back in regionals and super regionals, and I think that experience will help us,’’ UT All-American second baseman Lauren Gibson said. “Last night (Thursday) against Alabama was tough, but at the world series, you have to have a short memory whether you win or lose.’’
Those who follow Lady Vols softball will remember UT has finished no lower than third place in any of their four previous WCWS appearances.
The first three trips to Oklahoma City — 2005, ’06 and ’07 — Tennessee’s elite showings were largely a result of having arguably the most dominant pitcher in NCAA softball history in Monica Abbott.
In their 2010 WCWS appearance, the Lady Vols embraced a Cinderella role as the No. 15 seed and received strong senior leadership at the plate from Erinn Webb, Tiffany Huff and Nicole Kajitani while riding the arm of then-freshman Ivy Renfroe.
This season’s team has exhibited a fluid identity.
Sisters Ellen Renfroe (27-4, 1.19 ERA) and Ivy Renfroe (25-9, 1.81 ERA) have been dominant on most, though not all, occasions.
Tennessee’s sister act gives the Lady Vols a rare 1-2 punch that provides some hope of winning four straight games over the next two days.
The Renfroes, however, combined to issue a season-high seven walks against Alabama on Thursday, and Ivy Renfroe failed to get out of the first inning of a start for the first time of her junior campaign.
The offense, featuring three All-Americans named Wednesday — Gibson, Raven Chavanne and Madison Shipman — along with Kat Dotson from a year ago, has struggled to find consistency yet managed to do just enough to reach softball’s Elite Eight.
Senior Shelby Burchell provided punch in getting UT through regionals and super regionals, but her bat cooled in clutch situations against the Tide, as she went 0-for-3 and stranded two runners.
Shipman, the only All-American to fail to get a hit against Alabama SEC Pitcher of the Year Jackie Traina on Thursday, wore a fierce expression during Friday’s practice.
“It’s my job to drive people in, and it was frustrating,’’ said Shipman, the nation’s No. 2-ranked recruit in the Class of 2011. “I’m going come out trying to win every pitch, and we have to put up some runs for Ellen and Ivy. That’s all there is to it.’’
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee athletics. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32