By: Brian Rice
SEC Digital Network
KNOXVILLE, Tenn - Entering the sixth inning Saturday afternoon at Lee Stadium, Tennessee found itself in a familiar position: In control of the opening game of an NCAA Super Regional. A few Georgia hits later, the Lady Vols were in another familiar position: Looking to Ivy Renfroe to slam the door on a Tennessee victory.
Thanks to a two-RBI single from Shelby Burchell in the third inning and an insurance marker from Raven Chavanne's bat in the fourth, the Lady Vols looked to be on cruise control to a perfect five-for-five in Super Regional openers.
To open the sixth, Georgia strung together three straight hits to pull within 3-1. A Niaja Griffin groundout brought Georgia within a single tally with a runner at third. Grace Goulder hit a bouncing ball to Lauren Gibson at second, and she fired a strike to Ashley Andrews, who tagged the runner sliding in from third just in time to preserve the lead.
"The ball was hit to Lauren and not too hard," Andrews said. "So I knew the runner was going to come home. I setup so when the ball was on its way, I could block the plate with my left leg. When the ball got there I put the tag on as soon as possible, and it was in time. Lauren made a great throw."
From there, Renfroe slammed the door shut on Georgia after Goulder was caught stealing to end the inning. Renfroe needed just seven pitches in the final frame to strike out pinch hitter Brittney Hubbard and induce ground outs from Tess Sito and Ashley Pauly.
"I was just staying focused and taking one pitch at a time," Renfroe said. "You can't get overwhelmed. Nothing can change you. You have to focus on the process."
The pressure-packed situation was nothing new on the day for Renfroe. She had a no-hitter going through three innings, but faced a bases-loaded situation with one out in both the fourth and fifth innings. In the fourth, Renfroe responded with back-to-back strikeouts to end the threat. An inning later, she struck out Pauly with one out, then induced a ground ball to Melissa Brown at first base to retire the side.
"Just being in situations like that and knowing it's a high-stakes game," Renfroe said of her previous experiences in pressure situations. "It's a Super Regional game and there is a lot at stake, but none of that can enter your mind."
"That's what you expect from Super Regionals," Tennessee co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. "I'm proud of our girls and proud of how they fought. I'm especially proud of Ivy and how she toughed it out. The Bulldogs gave us everything they had."
With the Lady Vols one win away from a fifth trip to Oklahoma City, Weekly said he expects Georgia's best effort again on Sunday, twice, if necessary.
"We've been playing this kind of game with (Georgia) for five years," he said. "It's amazing that our two teams have to compete with so much at stake. Georgia has so many great players and everyone is fighting. I expect the same tomorrow."