The Lady Vols softball team beat No. 7 Kentucky 6-1 Friday afternoon, extending their win streak to six and improving to 27-5, 3-4 SEC. Tennessee is one step closer to clinching its first SEC series of the year against a Kentucky team that has never won a series in Knoxville.
"Tonight was an extension of Tuesday against Liberty. Our focus, our mindset during the entire game was exactly where I wanted it to be.” co-head coach Karen Weekly stated. “That doesn’t mean we are going to have success every inning, but even when we were scuffling in our bats in the first inning there was great communication going on in the dugout. You felt that was going to pay off eventually and it did.”
The Lady Vols benefitted from a dominant pitching performance by Ashley Rogers against the Wildcats. The junior out of Athens, Tennessee allowed just one run off three hits and recorded 10 strikeouts for her 14th win of the season. Rogers also held Kentucky’s high-powered offense hitless in the final three innings of the game.
"Her ball was really moving well tonight. To do that against that lineup, that’s when you know that she's really on her game.” coach weekly said regarding Rogers.
At first, Kentucky pitcher Autumn Humes and the rest of the Wildcat defense were able to mitigate Rogers’ damage. Kentucky and Tennessee entered the fifth with both teams struggling to get on base and the score evened up at one apiece.
In the fifth inning however, the top of the order for the Lady Vols blew the game wide open. After walking Kailtin Parsons, Humes surrendered a two-run homer to right field off the bat of senior outfielder Amanda Ayala. The next at-bat, a Cailin Hannon single to left field, welcomed Kentucky relief pitcher Miranda Stoddard to the circle.
To the dismay of the Wildcat faithful in attendance, the damage was far from over. Two more runs would score throughout the inning, extending the Tennessee lead to four heading into the sixth.
Any chance of a comeback bid from the Wildcats was fading quickly. After walking the first Kentucky batters, Rogers produced another hitless inning followed by another Ayala single into left field. After stealing second, Ayala was brought home with an Ashley Morgan single to left field.
Ayala recorded two RBI’s, three hits and two stolen bases in Friday’s contest; all team highs for the game. Whenever Tennessee needed a spark, Ayala was there to provide.
"There's days where you really feel locked in. I wanted to do everything I could; every pitch, every at-bat to push us forward." Ayala explained. “Since I've been here, I feel like this is the most talented lineup we've had. One through nine, we never have to count on certain people to do their job. It’s really exciting when you have confidence in everyone to keep it rolling.”
Tennessee now looks to clinch its first SEC series of the year against Kentucky on Saturday. Game two of the weekend series will be televised on ESPN2 at 6 p.m. ET.