Tennessee's Ellen Renfroe on the win over N.C. State
They may be young, but Rainey Gaffin and Cheyanne Tarango can follow instructions, even in extra-inning, NCAA tournament pressure.
In Gaffin’s case it was “Hit the crap out of the ball.’’
For Tarango, it was “Run, Cheyanne, run.’’
Gaffin’s walk-off triple scored Tarango in the 11th inning Saturday to spark Tennessee to a 1-0 win over North Carolina State at Lee Stadium, sending the Lady Vols to the Knoxville Regional championship round Sunday.
The Lady Vols (46-10) went to bed not knowing their opponent. N.C. State and James Madison were tied 4-4 in an elimination game when rain returned and necessitated a postponement.
The Wolfpack and Dukes resume in the fifth inning at 11:30 a.m. Sunday. The winner plays Tennessee at 1:30 p.m.
With a victory, Tennessee advances to the Super Regional next weekend. If UT loses, a winner-take-all game follows at 4.
As for Saturday, with a 12th inning — unprecedented in Lady Vols history — looming, Tarango, the sophomore first baseman, sliced a two-out single off N.C. State iron woman Emily Weiman.
As Gaffin, the freshman, came to the plate, co-head coach Ralph Weekly pulled aside, put his hands on her shoulders and said. ...
“He said, ‘Get your (front) foot down and hit the crap out of the ball,’ ’’ Gaffin said with a laugh. “I said, ‘All right, I got you.’ ’’
And she did. Gaffin drove a Weiman pitch off the wall in right-center field. The rest was up to Tarango.
She might not be the fastest Lady Vol, but she was under a full head of steam from first base.
“I saw the ball go up in the air and I thought it was out at first,’’ said winning pitcher Ellen Renfroe, “so I was sprinting out.
“Then I saw it hit the wall, I was ‘Run, Cheyanne, run,’ ’’
Pretty much everyone in orange was saying a version of the same thing.
Gaffin’s inner dialogue changed from: “Please don’t catch it,’’ to “Cheyanne, go, go!’’
And Weekly, in the third-base coaching box:
“I was wishing I hadn’t used my pinch runner the inning before, but Chey was moving, and she can run the bases. Chey’s athletic.
“I’m, ‘Come on, Chey, come on, Chey.’ ’’
Tarango thundered home with the game’s first and only run. Tennessee was through to Sunday, Renfroe had her first NCAA tournament pitching win and N.C. State was forced to play again later Saturday night.
Renfroe (17-4), a junior, was 0-4 in prior NCAA games. Her breakthrough couldn’t have been more memorable, considering the stakes and the performance of her counterpart Weiman (32-17).
Renfroe went the entire way, struck out 13, allowed only four hits — none in the four extra innings — and avoided any of her 164 pitches being hit out of the park by the home run-happy Wolfpack (34-19-1).
“She mixed her pitches up really well,’’ said State’s Caitlyn Dent. “She definitely kept us on our toes.’’
A running Melissa Brown catch at the left-field wall nixed one threat. Renfroe also pitched out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the fourth.
“As we got into later innings,’’ Renfroe said, “I kept thinking about what (co-head coach) Karen (Weekly) has been telling me, even earlier in the season, that fatigue is your friend.
“You can’t let getting tired or maybe disappointment, bad plays, whatever it might be, affect how you throw the next pitch.’’
Five of UT’s eight hits came in extra innings. Both Tarango and Gaffin had been instrumental in Friday’s 9-0 win over Longwood, each hitting home runs.
“That’s the key to Tennessee, their depth in their lineup,’’ said N.C. State coach Shawn Rychcik.
“Usually, you get a little reprieve. There’s none in that lineup. It’s Murderers’ Row up at the top but it doesn’t get any easier.’’
Mike Strange covers Tennessee athletics. Follow him on Twitter at strangemike44.