GAINESVILLE — The second week in May at the SEC tournament in Lexington, Ky. — that’s the next time the Tennessee softball team could see Lauren Haeger and the Florida Gators.
If that comes to fruition, there is no doubt Haeger’s performance from this weekend will be remembered.
The sophomore from Peoria, Ariz. hit two home runs Sunday for the No. 3 Gators: a three-run shot to tie the game 3-3 in the bottom of the sixth and a two-run, walk-off home run to win it 5-3 for Florida in the bottom of the eighth.
“I take my hat off to anyone who can step in the eighth and hit a home run out to win a ball game,” UT co-head coach Ralph Weekly said of Haeger’s heroics. “A walk-off is big time.”
Sunday was the fourth consecutive game that Tennessee and Florida played eight innings.
All three hits in Haeger’s 10 plate appearances during the three-game series were home runs. She had 10 RBIs and also pitched 10 innings earning a win and a loss.
Weekly’s game plan was to have starting pitcher Ellen Renfroe go four innings before handing the ball off to her sister, Ivy. But early on during Sunday’s rubber game, Ellen seemed almost as masterful as she was on Saturday when she struck out 14 Gators.
Renfroe was working with a 3-0 cushion thanks to runs scored in the second, third and sixth innings for UT. Gator pitcher Hannah Rogers hit UT catcher Hannah Akamine in the second inning with the bases loaded, giving the Lady Vols a 1-0 lead. In the top of third inning, Lauren Gibson hit a lead-off home run, her sixth of the season, to extend the Tennessee lead. Gibson delivered again in the sixth with an RBI single making it a three-run Lady Vols lead.
Then Haeger went to work. Her three-run blast came off Ellen Renfroe and just cleared the left centerfield wall.
Ivy Renfroe replaced Ellen after the home run.
When Haeger came to the plate in the eighth, Weekly felt like they had to pitch to the slugger.
“We couldn’t pitch around,” said Weekly. “That would put runners on first and second with nobody out. When I called time I went in and said (to relief pitcher Ivy Renfroe) ‘We are going to keep it low and hard’ and I don’t think that was low.”
Gibson was Tennessee’s leading hitter in the series, going 4-for-9 with two home runs, four RBIs and four runs. The senior’s average improved to a team-high .425.
Tennessee (23-6, 3-3) returns to action Tuesday for a home game against Murray State at 6 p.m.