OKLAHOMA CITY — The Tennessee softball team arrived at the Women's College World Series on Thursday as a team trying to find itself.
Alas, the only place the seventh-seeded Lady Vols found themselves on Saturday was headed home from ASA Hall of Fame Stadium with a seventh-place finish after losing an elimination game to No. 11 seed Oregon, 3-1.
The Lady Vols (52-14) staved off NCAA tournament elimination on five occasions in regional and super regional action to reach the WCWS, but they hardly resembled the team that won 19 straight entering the SEC tournament.
"You can't put this on any one person; we just didn't hit as a team and we didn't get it done,'' said UT co-head coach Ralph Weekly, whose previous four WCWS teams finished no lower than third. "We got into a team hitting slump over the last two weeks; it's true, we didn't find our groove.''
It didn't seem to matter who was in the circle or in the batters box for UT against the Ducks (45-17) on Saturday — nor against SEC champion Alabama in Thursday night's 5-3 loss, for that matter.
The sister act of pitchers Ellen and Ivy Renfroe struggled to hit their spots and stay ahead in counts, and the 2012 All-American trio of Raven Chavanne, Lauren Gibson and Madison Shipman were a combined 0-for-8 at the plate against Oregon's Jessica Moore (33-14) in what proved to be the season finale as UT went two and out.
The Ducks flew out to a quick lead on sophomore All-American Ellen Renfroe (27-5) on Saturday when Samantha Pappas opened the game with a home run over the center-field wall.
"It was a drop ball, and I left it up in the zone, and she did what she was supposed to do and hit it out,'' said Ellen Renfroe, who pitched two innings before being replaced by Ivy Renfroe.
"Just trying to find a strike zone can be tough coming out ... but as a pitcher and an athlete, you have to learn to settle down and find that strike zone and keep battling for your team.
"I don't think I did a good job of that today.''
Oregon made it 2-0 on Kailee Cuico's single down the left-field line before UT escaped the first inning.
The Lady Vols cut the lead in half in the second inning. Senior Ashley Andrews ignited a two-out rally, singling sharply to right field and stealing second before coming in to score on Tory Lewis' RBI single.
The Ducks padded their lead to 3-1 in the fourth by manufacturing a run off Ivy Renfroe. Christie Nieto crowded the plate enough to be struck by an inside fastball and came around to score when Alexa Peterson laced a double to the wall after Renfroe narrowly missed on a pair of two-strike pitches.
It was the type of run support Moore said Oregon needed to keep its confidence after a couple of close calls had gone against the Ducks in their 3-1 loss to Arizona State on Thursday night.
"We decided we were going to have to make the games unquestionable, and we didn't put ourselves in a situation where the umpire would have to make a tough call and we wouldn't get the break,'' Moore said. "I think the lead-off home run got our wheels turning. I just went at them; I was going to make them beat me.''
The Lady Vols managed just four hits off Moore and failed to capitalize with runners in scoring position in the first and second innings.
Kat Dotson singled and stole second in the first inning, only to have Gibson ground out and, following a Shipman walk, see Melissa Davin ground to short.
In the second inning, Lewis took second on the throw home on her RBI single, but Chavanne grounded weakly back to the pitcher to end the threat.
"She was hitting her spots, and I feel like hitters, myself included, swung at pitches I shouldn't have swung at, and that played into her game,'' said Chavanne, who failed to reach base for only the third time in 57 games. "You live and you learn.''
The Lady Vols weren't able to get a runner past first base the remainder of the game.
"There was no lack of effort, nor lack of heart,'' Weekly said. "We just got beat.''