Tennessee's Ralph Weekly talks about Ivy and Ellen Renfroe's pitching
You didn’t need a radar gun to figure out that Ivy Renfroe was throwing hard Sunday afternoon at Lee Stadium. The slight discoloration and puffiness of Hannah Akamine’s left hand were just as telling.
But Tennessee’s sophomore catcher got off easy compared to North Carolina State, which spent the afternoon proving that catching Renfroe was much easier than hitting her.
The Wolfpack managed only one hit, a third-inning grounder that barely reached the outfield, as Tennessee completed a three-game sweep of the Knoxville Regional of the NCAA tournament with a 7-0 victory.
“Ivy brought a fierceness to the mound,” Akamine said. “She constantly throws hard. But Saturday, she got the day off so she had a fresh arm.”
The catcher then smiled and turned up her left palm for verification. The bruise just forming was the price for not catching every pitch in the pocket of her mitt.
Call it the “Renfroe Hand.”
“I never had a bruised hand like this until I came here,” Akamine said.
Tennessee’s Renfroe sisters left their mark on the regional competition, too. They combined to pitch three consecutive shutouts (two by Ivy and one by Ellen) as UT advanced to next weekend’s Super Regional in Knoxville.
The Lady Vols haven’t been that dominant on the mound in the NCAA tournament since they held six consecutive opponents scoreless in 2005.
There was nothing complicated about Ivy’s success against the Wolfpack. She went inside fast and often, just as the game plan stipulated.
Co-head coach Karen Weekly devised the scheme early Sunday morning with the intent of negating a power-hitting team that entered the game with 88 home runs.
“Ivy was going to come in hard on their hands until they showed they could catch up to (her fastball),” Karen said.
N.C. State never came close to catching up. Aside from a lone single and a fly-ball out to left field, it couldn’t advance the ball beyond the infield. And its only semblance of a scoring threat came in the seventh inning when Ivy walked two batters with one out.
After the first walk, shortstop Madison Shipman made a brief visit to the mound.
“She was just helping me out, telling me to slow down,” Ivy said. “My pace was going a little too fast. I tend to do that.”
That’s an example of how dialed in the Lady Vols were. With a 7-0 lead and one out in the last inning, they still weren’t letting anything slide.
Their intensity was evident from the outset when they scored four runs in the first two innings while brandishing their speed and power. But UT’s talented lineup was upstaged by the Renfroes’ pitching in the tournament.
Weekly called Ellen’s 11-inning shutout of N.C. State on Saturday a “masterpiece.” Ivy’s performances this weekend were in line with her tournament history. She’s now 15-4 in the NCAA tournament.
“I’m very happy with what’s on the horizon to see Ivy and Ellen throw so well,” co-head coach Ralph Weekly said.
On the horizon is defending national champion and SEC rival Alabama, which overwhelmed Western Kentucky 13-1 to win the Tuscaloosa Regional and set up next weekend’s match-up with the Lady Vols. Tennessee won two of three regular-season games against the Tide in mid-March.
“Best thing we can do is tell the kids how proud we are of them and give them a little bit of time off,” Ralph said. “But we’ll be in here (Monday) looking at Alabama on film.”
If the video work produces a pitching plan as effective as Sunday’s, Tennessee’s season won’t end with the Super Regional.