The ball was packed with possibility.
Tennessee freshman pinch hitter Rainey Gaffin lifted a two-strike pitch to deep left-center field.
Gaffin anxiously followed its path. The crowd stood.
The Lady Vols softball team was tied with top-ranked Alabama in the sixth inning with two outs and a runner on second base.
Alabama’s center fielder twisted and turned, tracking the ball over her left shoulder.
Lunging into the wall, she corralled it — but only for a moment.
The collision jarred the ball loose, scoring Melissa Davin from second base to give UT the lead in its series-clinching, 2-1 victory over Alabama on Saturday at Lee Stadium.
Standing safely at second, Gaffin spiritedly pounded the bag with both fists.
“Get it done, that’s what I was thinking,” Gaffin said. “This is so huge for us.”
Tennessee (21-3, 2-0 SEC) hadn’t registered back-to-back wins against a No. 1 opponent since 2007.
“I was so giddy,” Gaffin said. “Oh my god, I felt like I couldn’t breathe — just unbelievable.”
But the defending national champion Tide wouldn’t fade without a fight.
A leadoff walk and a single put two aboard with one out in the top of the seventh.
But Tennessee starter Ivy Renfroe induced a shallow popout to right field and a dribbler to third to fasten the win.
Alabama (22-3, 0-2) has now lost three straight.
Renfroe pitched all seven innings, striking out six and allowing five hits.
Prior to the seventh-inning dramatics, Renfroe retired nine consecutive Alabama batters.
“What we saw out of Ivy was a pitcher who got better with every inning,” Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly said.
Renfroe surrendered four of her five hits during the contest’s first four innings.
“As the game went on, I felt that my arm relaxed more and I got more comfortable,” she said.
But Renfroe was assisted by a stellar showing from the Lady Vols’ defense.
With a runner in scoring position and two outs in the second inning, third baseman Raven Chavanne corralled a sharply hit liner and fired to first to end the threat.
Shortstop Madison Shipman ranged to her left to put an end to a similar Alabama scoring chance in the fourth.
“It’s just awesome,” Renfroe said. “Karen (Weekly) was talking about that, telling me that I can’t take that for granted. There’s not a lot of teams that have that behind them.”
Tennessee first reached the score column in the first inning, as Lauren Gibson punched a single up the middle to score Kat Dotson from second base.
Gibson went 2-for-2 at the plate and is 4-for-5 during the series.
But Alabama would tie the score in the ensuing half inning, as an Andrea Hawkins RBI single ticked just inside the right-field fair line.
“We have to play it one game at a time, and I know it’s a cliché, but we have to take it one pitch at a time, too,” Weekly said. “(Alabama’s) going to be fired up tomorrow.”