Softball: Day 2 at the SEC Tournament
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Tennessee began its quest for an SEC softball tournament title on Thursday as authoritatively as it had played since a midseason 19-game winning streak. The Lady Vols advanced to the semifinals with a 5-0 win against No. 10-seeded South Carolina.
Ellen Renfroe threw her fifth shutout of the season for the No. 2-seeded Lady Vols (44-9), allowing four hits and one walk with five strikeouts. She didn’t allow a runner past second base, and only on one occasion, in the fourth inning, did South Carolina (32-23) have two runners on base at the same time.
Renfroe punctuated her complete-game shutout with a perfect seventh and a called strike three on third baseman Codee Yeske that Renfroe credited to catcher Hannah Akamine as much as she did herself.
“I think a lot of people don’t give catchers and people behind the scenes enough credit,” Renfroe said. “It takes talent back there. She frames the ball, has confidence back there. That, plus a few pitches were working tonight for me. I think that all combined for a good game.”
The Lady Vols will play No. 3-seeded Missouri (34-10), an 8-0 winner against Arkansas, in the semifinals Friday (TV: ESPNU, 3:30 p.m.). Top-seeded Florida takes on Georgia in the other semifinal. Tennessee ended its regular season losing two out of three games on the road against the Tigers.
The Lady Vols took control of the game in the bottom of the first before South Carolina starter Audrey Broyles recorded an out. Leadoff hitter Raven Chavanne singled back to the pitcher, and after stealing second base, Lauren Gibson knocked a double off the left-field wall to plate Chavanne.
On the first pitch of the next at-bat, Gibson stole third on a delayed play behind a charged-in third baseman, and a throwing error from catcher Shelby Gonzales allowed Gibson to score easily.
Kat Dotson added a home run, her fifth of the season, later in the inning to make it 3-0.
“We talk about this a lot,” Renfroe said of scoring early runs. “It takes a little bit of pressure off the defense as a whole, not necessarily just pitching. Even our defensive players all around. Not that we can take anyone lightly, obviously. It allows us to relax a little bit more and it gives us confidence throughout the game to know that we can keep putting runs on the board.”
Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly said his main point before Thursday’s game was to forget about what happened in Missouri and come out with runs early against South Carolina, playing like the club that won 19 in a row instead of the won that lost three of four to finish the regular season.
“We didn’t want to be playing the blame game,” Weekly said. “Missouri deserved to win last weekend. They played outstanding. They’ve got a great club, and we had a chance to beat them up there. It was just a long weekend. We just wanted to get back on track.”
James Pennington is a freelance contributor.