Ralph Weekly on what he told his team before practice
OKLAHOMA CITY — Melissa Brown remembers the optic-yellow ball rocketing off Ashley Andrews' bat and over her head in laser-like fashion toward the left-center field wall at Hall of Fame Stadium on June 6, 2010.
But the Tennessee junior can't remember Arizona left fielder Brittany Lastrapes making a spectacular catch and firing the ball to second base to complete an inning-ending double play.
"I never saw it; I crossed home plate, everyone was screaming, and I had no clue she caught it,'' said Brown, then a freshman making a rare start in a Women's College World Series elimination game the Lady Vols lost 5-2. "I'd checked the outfield and saw where everyone was playing, and when the ball was hit, I was like, there's no way she's going to catch it.''
Brown can't change history, but she's in a far better position to influence the future as Tennessee's starting first baseman in today's 7 p.m. game (TV: ESPN2) against Alabama in the opening round of the WCWS.
The seventh-seeded Lady Vols (52-12) split with the second-seeded Crimson Tide (55-7) in the team's doubleheader this season. Alabama won
the first game, 3-2 in 11 innings, before Tennessee took a 5-2 decision in the nightcap in snapping what had been a 26-game win streak for the Tide.
Brown has memories of that victory, too, as it was her three-run home run that staked the Lady Vols out to a 3-0 lead.
"That was awesome, exciting and it really helped my confidence,'' said Brown, who's batting .277 with a career-high five home runs this season. "It's always important to get the big hits against big teams.''
That's one of many lessons Brown learned growing up and practicing ball with her twin brother, Trevor, who's a junior first baseman at UCLA.
"We played tee ball together, and I played baseball until I was 8 years old before playing softball,'' Melissa Brown said. "We still talk, but I haven't gotten to see him since winter break (in December).
Brown would like to delay her family reunion at least another week. She has a completely different mindset heading into today's WCWS action that she did as a freshman two seasons ago.
"I'll get a chance to be on the field as opposed to watching others play,'' Brown said. "Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it last time and cheered my team on, but I think I only got three at-bats the last time I was here.''
Brown, who bats No. 7 in the order, hopes to get that many plate appearances tonight, for that would mean Tennessee was holding its own against Alabama ace Jackie Traina (37-2), a two-time All-American.
Crimson Tide coach Patrick Murphy left little doubt Alabama would be relying heavily on the sophomore, and if he had his way, Tennessee would be as transparent about which pitcher it's starting tonight.
Junior Ivy Renfroe (25-8, 1.73 ERA) pitched UT to the WCWS in 2010 and has won 20 of her past 22 decisions, while sophomore Ellen Renfroe (27-4, 1.18) held the Tide to three hits and two runs in the Lady Vols' win at Alabama this season.
"Ivy throws as hard as anyone in the country, and Ellen has as good a spin as anyone in the country,'' Murphy said. "It's difficult to prepare for both; it's like preparing for a running quarterback and a passing quarterback.
"If they change pitchers, your adjustment has to be two batters — not three innings.''
The last time Traina took the circle against the Lady Vols, the contest lasted 11 innings, with Traina hitting a walk-off home run to win the game after throwing 195 pitches.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee athletics. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32