Tennessee has had an impressive start to the season, losing just one of their first 12 games. The team will see their first SEC opponent on Saturday, when they travel to College Station, Texas for the Reveille Classic.
Through their first 13 games the Lady Vols have relied heavily on the impressive play of their pitchers.
Ashley Rogers has led the Lady Vols pitching this season after missing last season with injury. The junior has 76 strikeouts through 40 innings, including a 17-strikeout game and an 18-strikeout game.
Along with Rogers, three other pitchers have seen the mound for the Lady Vols. Samantha Bender, Bailey McCachren and Callie Turner have all played significant innings for Tennessee.
Rogers believes the Lady Vols pitching staff is versatile and compliments the team differently.
“A lot of people probably consider [Bender] more of a closer but she started and did incredibly well the other day,” Rogers said. “So, I think we’re all a variation of different capabilities, we can all start games and we can all close games.
“We’re just all doing our part and picking each other up if somebody isn’t having a good day, we’re a staff and we’re all there for each other. We all have a common goal to keep the other team off the board.”
Bender, McCachren and Turner have all been impressive for Tennessee thus far, and co-head coach Ralph Weekly will look to them in important mid-week games.
“I think all five of them will see action, especially with our mid-week schedule,” Weekly said. “We come off SEC weekends and like most SEC teams we play a middle-level club that’s pretty good.
“But we play them mid-week so we can’t go into them thinking we’ve got it made.”
The Lady Vols will see their first SEC opponent of the season on Saturday when they take on Texas A&M. The Aggies have had a decent start to the season, winning six of their first eight games.
The SEC is a top conference for softball, and after almost 20 years in the SEC, Weekly understands that the SEC pitching is a different level of play.
“It’s just a different brand and a lot of young players today want to play in the SEC,” Weekly said. “So where a player may be a number one at a mid-level school, they’ll be a two or three pitcher at the SEC level. It’s not easy with anybody in the SEC.”
Rogers also understands the heightened level of play that comes during SEC games, and recognizes that her team must come out with some fire.
“As [Weekly] always says, it’s called fast pitch, so going out there and setting the tone is what’s going to be super important in SEC,” Rogers said. “Every single player out there is incredibly talented and at the highest level you can be at in softball.
“So you have to show up every single day and just go out there and compete and set the tone for your team and just do your job.”
Along with their first SEC game, the Lady Vols will also be on the road for the first time this weekend.
“It can be very different,” Bender said. “We have great support from our fans, but when you’re playing on the road and playing at another team's stadium, they have their own fanbase.
“It’s different from playing at home and the field we’ve been practicing on. We really make it a point to check things out before we get in there and make sure we’re confident in what we have.”
While Tennessee faces Texas A&M this weekend, the game will not count towards the Lady Vols’ SEC record. Tennessee’s official SEC season will begin next weekend when LSU comes to Knoxville.
Tennessee will have its first games of the weekend on Friday when they take on Campbell University at 11 a.m. EST and Lamar University at 1:30 p.m. EST. The Lady Vols will take on Texas A&M on Saturday at 4 p.m. EST and Lamar at 6:30 p.m. EST. Tennessee will close out the weekend on Sunday at 11 a.m. EST against Campbell.