TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - The #5 Tennessee Lady Vol softball team (46-9) utilized a huge sixth-inning HR off the bat of senior Holly Baker and a three-hit effort from the circle by sophomore pitcher Ellen Renfroe to win its 19th-consecutive contest, out-lasting Auburn (33-21) in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals, 2-1.
The Big Orange now advances on to the semifinal round to battle #7 Florida (45-10) on Fri., May 11, at 3 p.m. ET live on ESPNU.
Baker’s solo HR marked her first of 2012 and just the second big fly of her career, while junior second baseman Lauren Gibson was 1-for-2 with a walk and a RBI. Junior third baseman Raven Chavanne reached base successfully for the 34th-straight contest, going 1-for-3 at the dish, sophomore center fielder Tory Lewis was 1-for-3 with a run scored and senior catcher Ashley Andrews was 1-for-3.
In the circle Renfroe improved to 27-3 overall, allowing one run on three hits with a walk and four strikeouts in her 22nd complete game of the season.
“I’d like to praise Auburn,” Lady Vol Co-Head Coach Ralph Weekly said. “They played hard today and had a good game plan. Their pitchers were good. We struggled, but we tell the kids all the time, the longer you play, the better you get. I was just proud of them. There were a couple of times that things weren’t going so good, but we righted the ship and got the result that we wanted.”
After Auburn left a runner stranded in the top of the first, Chavanne tried to get something started against Tiger starter Jenee Loree in the bottom half of the opening frame. The Thousand Oaks, Calif., native beat out a perfect bunt single, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by junior right fielder Kat Dotson and advanced within 60 feet of pay dirt on a long fly out by sophomore shortstop Madison Shipman. Unfortunately, she remained at third as a routine grounder to shortstop concluded the inning with no scoreboard damage.
AU recorded a two-out threat in the top of the second against Renfroe as a fielding miscue on a bouncer off the bat of designated player Hilary Mavromat and a walk issued to third baseman Caitlin Schultze put a pair aboard for the Tigers. In keeping up the early theme of missed opportunities, left fielder Baylee Stephens popped up the first pitch she received to third, upping Auburn’s left stranded count to three through a pair of frames.
A sharp single through the infield by UT’s Lewis on a 1-2 pitch got a scoring rally underway for Tennessee during the bottom of the third that resulted in an eventual Big Orange lead. Following a sac bunt by Chavanne and a Loree wild pitch, Shipman walked and swiped her 18th base of the season, placing a pair of Lady Vols in scoring position. That set the stage for Gibson to deliver as the Pasadena, Md., native hit a slow chopper into a perfect spot on the infield for a RBI single and a 1-0 advantage.
Embroiled in a full-scale pitcher’s duel, Auburn finally managed another base runner in the top of the sixth, breaking a string of 10 consecutive AU batters retired by Renfroe as shortstop Lauren Guzman christened the inning with a lead-off single through the left side. With two retired after a sacrifice bunt and a ground ball to short and Guzman stationed at third, Tiger catcher Elizabeth Eisterhold drove a shot down the left field line. Defensive replacement Baker charged over just inside the foul line and made a running catch to conclude the threat with Tennessee still maintaining its one-run advantage.
As so often happens in softball, Baker followed her solid defensive effort to end the top of the sixth by starting the bottom half of the frame with what proved to be a vital solo blast off the base of the Rhoads Stadium scoreboard to make it 2-0. The big fly was the Broadway, Va., native’s first HR of the season and marked just the second of the senior’s career.
No one had any idea how vital that insurance run for the Big Orange would prove to be until there were two retired in the top of the seventh inning. Mavromat drove a solo HR to left, cutting the UT lead to just a single tally at 2-1. Renfroe refused to be fazed by the AU big fly, however, getting a groundout to third from Schultze to finish off the SEC quarterfinal triumph.