COLUMBIA, Mo. — In the end, Tennessee ran out of time.
The No. 2 Lady Vols softball team fell 12-8 to No. 11 Missouri on Sunday in a game that ended after the top of the sixth inning because of time restrictions resulting from Tennessee’s travel plans.
The game was scheduled to end at 2 p.m. CST because the Lady Vols had to catch a flight in St. Louis at 5 p.m.
The time limitations robbed Tennessee of its last three outs and a final chance to come back and win the SEC regular-season title.
“I feel like if we would have gotten to finish the game, it may have been a different outcome, but, you know, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do,” said pitcher Ivy Renfroe, who started the game for Tennessee.
Missouri pitcher Nicole Hudson said the teams were aware of the “drop-dead” time.
“I’m not exactly sure what that is going to mean in the long run, but it was definitely something we were thinking about,” Hudson said.
With the loss, the win percentage for Tennessee (43-9, 16-6 SEC) in SEC games (.727) dropped below Florida’s (.750), meaning the Gators (49-7, 18-6) win the league’s regular-season title.
Heading into Sunday, the Lady Vols had two ways to win the title.
The most direct route, Tennessee could have beaten Missouri (33-10, 15-8), but a rain out (which has been common lately) would have done just as much for the Lady Vols.
The weather, cloudy but dry, did not provide an easy way out. But it appeared Tigers coach Ehren Earleywine did the Lady Vols a favor by resting
pitcher Chelsea Thomas in the series finale and going with Hudson instead.
In Saturday night’s doubleheader, Thomas no-hit Tennessee in Game 1, while the Lady Vols lit up Hudson in a 10-1 win in Game 2.
With the SEC tournament beginning Wednesday in Lexington, Ky., Earleywine opted to rest Thomas and go with Hudson for the second straight game.
It looked like the Vols would overwhelm Hudson again when Lauren Gibson, the second batter of the game, drilled a line drive over the left-center field fence for a home run.
While Hudson again was far from dominant in the circle (eight earned runs in six innings pitched), she made up for it with her production at the plate. She hit two home runs, including a grand slam in the second, to give Missouri an 8-7 lead heading into the third.
“Those were my runs up there on the board that I had to make up for,” Hudson said. “So that’s what I tried to do.”
The Tigers’ six-run bottom of the second was a rapid response to the Lady Vols racing out to a 7-2 lead with a six-run top of the second. Gibson hit her second home run of the game in the inning, a three-run home run that made her UT’s single-season record holder at 17, breaking a tie with Tonya Callahan (2008) and Jessica Spigner (2011).
Tennessee tied the game 8-8 in the top of the third on a Madison Shipman sacrifice fly that scored Tory Lewis before Missouri pushed across four more runs in the bottom of the inning.
After the wild first three innings at University Field, there were more runs (20) than outs (18).
Ellen Renfroe (15-4) took over for her sister, Ivy, with no outs in the second inning, but struggled and was credited with the loss. She allowed eight runs, seven earned in her 1 2/3 innings before Ivy Renfroe returned to the circle.
Ivy Renfroe pitched a total of 3.2 innings and gave up four earned runs.
“We’re looking forward to the tournament,” said Ivy Renfroe, as she was rushed to the team bus.
Richard Fernandez is a freelance contributor.
SEC softball tournament
May 8-11 in Lexington, Ky.
All games except championship game can be seen on ESPNU; championship game is on ESPN
No. 8 Alabama vs. No. 9 Texas A&M, 4 p.m.
No. 7 Kentucky vs. No. 10 South Carolina, 6:30 p.m.
No. 1 Florida vs. Alabama/Texas A&M winner, 11 a.m.
No. 4 LSU vs. No. 5 Georgia, 1:30 p.m.
No. 2 Tennessee vs. Kentucky/South Carolina winner, 4 p.m.
No. 3 Missouri vs. No. 6 Arkansas, 6:30 p.m.
Florida/Alabama/Texas A&M winner vs. LSU/Georgia winner, 3 p.m.
Tennessee/Kentucky/South Carolina winner vs. Missouri/Arkansas winner, 5:30 p.m.
Championship game, 8 p.m.