Coach Ralph Weekly discusses the win over Longwood
Longwood’s team bus absorbed a few dents in a traffic accident Friday on the way to Lee Stadium.
There were worse dents to come once the Lancers got there.
Cheyanne Tarango and Rainey Gaffin clubbed home runs as the bottom half of the batting order stood tall in Tennessee’s 9-0, run-rule victory in the opening round of the NCAA Knoxville softball regional tournament.
“We needed a game like that,’’ said co-head coach Ralph Weekly, mindful that the Lady Vols lost the opening game of the 2012 regional and had to fight out of a hole to get back on track to Oklahoma City.
The next step is at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The Lady Vols (45-9) face North Carolina State (34-18-1), a 2-0 winner over James Madison earlier Friday.
Longwood (41-19) plays James Madison (41-16) in an elimination game at 4. At 6:30, the winner of that game meets the UT-N.C. State loser in another elimination game.
If the Lady Vols get past the Wolfpack, they’re set until Sunday at 1:30 p.m., when they meet the survivor of Saturday’s late game. A second game would follow, if necessary.
While Tennessee’s offense was led by a sophomore, Tarango, and a freshman, Gaffin, the pitching chore was turned over to an old hand.
Senior Ivy Renfroe allowed two harmless hits in five innings to improve to 18-4 on the year and 14-4 in career NCAA tournament games.
“We knew how good Ivy was in playoffs,’’ Weekly said, explaining the decision to start Ivy instead of sister Ellen Renfroe. “The other thing, they hadn’t seen that kind of speed.’’ Renfroe struck out six, including the nation’s leading home-run hitter, Megan Baltzell, twice.
Saturday’s game will be a rematch. Tennessee beat N.C. State twice in a February tournament in Tampa, Fla.
Ivy pitched a complete game 7-0 win. Ellen went the distance in an 8-2 victory.
The Tennessee bats will have to solve Emily Weiman (32-16), who threw a three-hitter against James Madison.
“She’s a tough kid,’’ said Weekly. “She’s a competitor.’’
Tarango’s competitive juices were flowing for UT. She started at first base for injured Melissa Davin (broken hand).
In the bottom of the first inning, Tarango ended a threat by striking out with runners on second and third.
It was deja vú in the third. Tarrango came to bat in the same scenario.
This time she got the best of Libby Morris (21-9), driving a two-run single to right field.
It didn’t stay 2-0 for long. The next batter, Gaffin, playing her first NCAA tournament game, hit Morris’ first pitch over the center-field fence for a 4-0 lead.
In the fourth, Madison Shipman’s two-run single made it 6-0. Tarango then hit a ball off the light pole in left field, her 10th home run of the year, to make it 9-0.
Renfroe retired Longwood in the top of the fifth and that was that.
Weekly said both Tarango and Gaffin benefited from adjustments the coaching staff made from watching Morris work right-handed batters the first two innings.
“She’s a big-time player,’’ Weekly said of Tarango. “She just hasn’t got a lot of opportunities with Davin in the lineup.’’
There will be plenty of opportunities Saturday.
Game 1 — N.C State 2, James Madison 0
Game 2 — Tennessee 9, Longwood 0, 5 innings
Game 3 — N.C. State (34-18-1) vs. Tennessee (45-10), 1:30 p.m.
Game 4 — James Madison (41-16) vs. Longwood (41-19),
Game 5 — Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 6:30 p.m.
Game 6 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 1:30 p.m.
x-Game 7 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 4 p.m.
x- if necessary