There was a postseason feel at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium on Saturday night.
From the energy coming from the stands, to the strong pitching that was shutting down batter after batter, No. 7 Tennessee (31-4, 4-3) and No. 6 Georgia (30-4, 7-2) played a championship-esque game in an SEC showdown.
In dramatic fashion, Tennessee scored the game’s lone run in the bottom of the seventh inning to top the Bulldogs 1-0 in front of a season-first sellout crowd.
“It speaks volumes,” co head coach Ralph Weekly said of the win. “I think Georgia is one of the top three teams in the league, and one of the best in the nation. That was just a classic, old-fashioned, fast pitch game.”
A week ago, Tennessee was reeling after a series sweep at the hands of South Carolina- its first time being swept since 2016- and dropping to 3-3 in league play.
But if that sweep weighed heavy on the minds of the Lady Vols, it didn’t show.
“A complete 180,” Weekly said. “Our staff was in the bullpen with them all week, we put in some new things, tried some new drills in practice. It’s going to be another battle tomorrow. No question.”
The game was a pitchers’ duel from the start, as Tennessee’s Caylan Arnold (13-1) and Matty Moss (14-1) put together a team effort to hold the Bulldogs scoreless over seven innings.
In five innings of action, Arnold recorded five strikeouts, while only allowing just two hits. Moss followed her up with three strikeouts and just one hit in two innings of play.
Georgia’s senior RHP Brittany Gray responded in kind, keeping the Lady Vols off the board as well.
Each side threatened over the course of the game, and Georgia came dangerously close to taking a 2-0 lead in the top half of the fourth.
That threat was ended by senior right fielder Scarlet McSwain, who snagged what had appeared to be a sure two-run home run over the left field wall.
Just as impressive as the catch was McSwain’s throw to junior second baseman Aubrey Leach to get the Georgia leadoff runner out at first. The play ignited the Tennessee dugout and the home crowd of 2,292 in attendance.
“This past week, we all worked really hard in the outfield,” McSwain said. “I’m sure any of our outfielders could have done what I did. I’m just glad one was hit to me so that I could prove we worked so hard at it.”
The play was Tennessee’s biggest defensive stand of the game as it kept two Georgia runs off the board and, in a game that would be decided by one run, it proved to be a crucial moment.
Gray, who had only allowed two hits in the contest, walked two straight batters in sophomore Tianna Batts and sophomore Cailin Hannon in the bottom of the seventh.
Her third walk of the inning, this time on freshman Amanda Ayala, would load the bases for the Lady Vols as they made their biggest threat of the game.
Still, the Georgia coaching staff decided to let their senior get out of the jam, and it looked like she was going to do just that was the Bulldogs recorded two quick outs.
With the bases loaded, senior shortstop Meghan Gregg came to the plate. At an even count of two balls and two strikes, it came down to at least one more pitch to extend the game into extra innings.
In an anticlimactic ending to an exhilarating game between two elite programs, Gray’s pitch would hit Gregg to bring in a walk-off run from Batts to give Tennessee the 1-0 win.
The play would go down in the books as an RBI and, with that, Gregg reached a historic milestone in her prolific Tennessee career as the program’s all-time leader in RBIs. But winning championships, not breaking records, is more important to Gregg going forward.
“I’m definitely humbled to be in the record book,” Gregg said. “But, if I had to choose between breaking a record or winning a World Series, I would definitely choose the World Series.”
Tennessee will look to build off of the win on Sunday, as it will face Georgia in game two of the series beginning 6 p.m.