Softball

University of Tennessee Softball team before the start of Georgia game, on March 31, 2018.

Conference play hasn’t been exactly kind to the Tennessee softball team.

The No. 8 Lady Vols have lost six of their last nine SEC games, including dropping two to No. 11 Auburn this past weekend.

But on Tuesday, Tennessee will have a chance to bounce back with another midweek contest against an in-state opponent, facing the Memphis Tigers out of the American Athletic Conference.

For the Lady Vols to be successful in their neutral-site showdown with the Tigers, they’ll have to fix some hitting problems that have plagued them over the course of the last four weeks, including in their last outing at Auburn.

“One thing I was disappointed in was we failed a lot of times in RBI situations,” co-head coach Ralph Weekly said after the first game of the Auburn series. “We had a chance to put the game away early.”

In the first two games of the series, the Lady Vols played close, beating Auburn 2-1 in extra innings on Friday and then losing game two, 2-0, on Saturday before falling in game three, 6-0, on Sunday.

Tennessee will look to use its game against Memphis as not only a morale booster but a chance to fix its offense as well.

“I’ve been able to spark it (the batting order) lately with the slappers coming off the bench,” Weekly said after the Lady Vols’ game against Tennessee State. “But that’s not a permanent fix. They are being passive. It’s not that they are passive people, but they are being careful.

“My thoughts are that they are afraid to fail. Some of them are young, and they’ve not been in this situation.”

With another major conference contest with No. 14 LSU looming on the horizon, it will be in the Lady Vols’ best interest not to overlook Memphis, which comes in 29-11 overall.

The Tigers will present yet another challenge for Tennessee’s batting order, as they rank second overall in the ACC in batter struck out with 236 on the season.

Their pitchers, led by right-hander Molly Smith, are atop the conference in hits allowed, only giving up 207 in 40 games played. Smith (16-16) enters Tuesday’s game with a 1.49 ERA, having struck out 169 batters on the year.

On the offensive side, Memphis presents just as much of a challenge for Tennessee’s pitching staff. The Tigers lead the AAC in team batting average at .320, as well as, on-base percentage (.396), runs scored (230) and hits (339).

Outside of one inning where Auburn rattled off five runs in Sunday’s loss, Tennessee’s pitching staff, led by junior Matty Moss (15-3) and sophomore Caylan Arnold (14-4), has been strong for the Lady Vols.

“I went out and talked to Caylan, and I said, ‘Listen, we’re not hitting,'” Weekly said after the Tennessee State contest. “We need a couple of outs. Work hard. And she said, ‘I got you, coach.’ And then, it happened. It’s not the first time it’s happened with Arnold or Matty or anybody else.

“I have to think they’re young, too. I don’t have a senior pitcher on the staff. We’re trying everything we can.”

Tennessee is 1-0 against in-state opponents this season, having beaten Tennessee State 3-0 on April 3.

The game against Memphis will be part of the annual Mid-State Classic and will take place at the Ridley Sports Complex in Columbia, Tennessee, with the opening pitch set for 7 p.m.

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