Pitcher Ellen Renfroe on first no-hitter against Furman
Ellen Renfroe's orange headband sparkled as it would any other night in the Lee Stadium lights, and her light blue bow bounced routinely with the release of each 65 mph pitch.
But the sophomore couldn't get her baffling knuckle-drop ball — her go-to pitch — to find its spots in the second game of the Lady Vols' doubleheader against Furman.
Renfroe (18-1) admitted she was as surprised as anyone that she threw the first no-hitter of her decorated career on Tuesday.
Renfroe added to her nation-leading number of shutouts (13) as ninth-ranked Tennessee (25-7) took an 8-0, six-inning decision in the nightcap over the Paladins (12-20) after scoring a 1-0 victory in the opener.
Ellen's older sister, fire-balling junior Ivy Renfroe (7-6), came within one out of producing a no-hitter in the opener before Furman's Lauren Collier singled with two outs in the seventh.
UT co-head coach Ralph Weekly could only shake his head at the Renfroe sisters' performances in the wake of an exhausting road trip that saw the Lady Vols play 12 games in 15 days.
"That was a tough no-hitter for Ellen, too; I've never seen her struggle like that,'' Weekly said. "You could see it in her face in the first inning when a couple of her pitches weren't working.
"I'll tell you, it's not an excuse, but I think they were all tired.''
There were other clues in the form of four walks.
Ivy Renfroe was in fact slightly more impressive when one considers she threw six no-hit innings with only one walk before surrendering a walk and a hit in the seventh.
UT's offense, however, didn't lend the elder Renfroe as much support, scoring just one run in the first when Melissa Brown delivered an RBI single.
Ellen Renfroe, who ranks seventh in the nation in strikeouts and second in wins, said focus was key.
"Playing at this level, hitters make it a challenge every night no matter who you go up against, so I just focus on the next pitch,'' Ellen Renfroe said. "But going through the game, you see the zeros on the scoreboard. ... I tell myself as long we win, it's all fine.''
Ellen Renfroe has beaten some of the nation's best this season: then-No. 1 Arizona State (3-0, Feb. 11), then-No. 3 Florida (1-0, March 9) and previously No. 1-Alabama (5-2, March 21). The Tide's two runs represent the only runs she allowed in her past 47 2/3 innings, covering eight appearances.
"We're a pitching team first and a defensive team second,'' Weekly said. "Don't forget Ivy pitched us to a world series (2010). We have to rest up and get our offense going.''
Brown is emerging as a top offensive threat, finishing the doubleheader 4-of-7 hitting with three RBIs. Former pitcher Cat Hosfield provided a lift with a 2-for-3 performance in the second game.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32