Tennessee softball is looking to improve upon its SEC resume this weekend against South Carolina, a team that is struggling to keep up with the rest of the SEC. Although the Lady Vols are nationally ranked, their 4-5 SEC record leaves much to be desired as the finish line for the regular season fast approaches.
Tennessee’s hopes to improve upon that record this weekend are not ill-fated. The Gamecocks sit at the bottom of the SEC rankings, only surpassing Mississippi State — a school that has yet to win an SEC matchup. South Carolina is 1-11 in the SEC, but hopes to drag the momentum of a run-rule victory over Ole Miss on Sunday into this weekend’s series against the Lady Vols.
Tennessee is on a win streak of its own. Despite playing without Ally Shipman and Amanda Ayala in the past three games, the Lady Vols have won four in a row including a series-clinching victory over then No. 7 Kentucky. Despite the streak heading into South Carolina, the Lady Vols know there is work to be done.
“I think we will be ready to go (on Saturday),” co-head coach Karen Weekly said. “We’re definitely feeling the loss of Ayala and Shipman, but finding that rhythm in your offense is the hurdle. That’s our next challenge.”
Despite the win streak, the Lady Vols have struggled to find any offense without the services of Shipman and Ayala. Wednesday’s doubleheader saw the Lady Vols score just five runs across two games, their lowest numbers in a victory so far this season.
“We would have a good at-bat and then a couple that weren't productive. That continues to be something that we want to focus on and we want to get better at,” Weekly said.
South Carolina, despite a less than ideal record, has experience against ranked opponents this year, and many more on the schedule to come. In mid-march the Gamecocks won a series over No. 20 UCF and even gave top-ranked Arkansas a scare just a week prior, taking the Razorbacks to extra innings.
The Gamecocks’ series against Tennessee kicks off a slate of seven straight ranked games, six of which are against SEC opponents. Tennessee, on the other hand, looks to take advantage of a weaker second half of SEC play after playing a front-loaded schedule.
So far this season, nobody has had an answer for Tennessee’s Ashley Rogers. Her 0.93 ERA is unmatched in the SEC, and South Carolina will find capitalizing on her few mistakes to be a tall order. Look for South Carolina to take advantage of Tennessee’s recent offensive struggles when Rogers is in the circle.
Despite South Carolina’s record, Weekly is not one to overlook the Gamecocks.
“You have to be ready to play every day … SEC play gets the adrenaline going. Everybody is a little more locked in, a little more fired up,” Weekly said. “I’m not concerned about us not being ready to play. We've just gotta clean up some things so we can be more productive every pitch of the game.”