Coming off a midweek victory against Lipscomb, the No. 11 Tennessee softball team looked to capitalize on the momentum going into game one of their three-game home series against Mississippi State on Friday.
The Lady Vols battled early on and had an explosive fourth inning totaling seven hits and six runs. The stellar middle-inning offensive combined with solid pitching in the circle led Tennessee to a commanding 9-1, five-inning run-rule win over the Bulldogs.
“It was a great Friday night and opening win for us,” head coach Karen Weekly said. “I'm really proud of our offense and the way they put up that six spot up there. It allowed us to do what we wanted pitching-wise and not let (Mississippi State) see Erin tonight.”
Tennessee (24-9, 6-3 SEC) was firing on all cylinders as they cruised past Mississippi State with little resistance. The Lady Vols put up 12 hits on the night which included three home runs. A standout performance by sophomore Rylie West and junior Kiki Milloy resulted in a Tennessee offense that looked near unstoppable.
After a quiet opening inning, Tennessee was eager to get on the board. With just one out, West stepped up to the plate. She hit a blooper to shallow right and showcased her speed as she rounded third and slid home for an inside-the-park home run. The home run gave Tennessee a 1-0 advantage going to the third.
While West was off to a hot start offensively, she also shined on the defensive end the very next inning. After two quick outs, Mia Davidson hit a single over West but to gunned down the at second.
“Off the bat, it was hit really hard so I knew I didn't have a good shot catching it,” West said. “So I just watched it go over my head and played it off the wall and then got the ball in. We practice that all the time.”
The momentum shifted in Tennessee’s favor in the final two innings. The Lady Vols were able to rally off McKenna Gibson’s stand-up double and went up 2-0. Following the RBI double was two back-to-back bombs by Ivy Davis and Kency Leach putting UT up 5-0.
By the end of the fourth, the Lady Vols held a commanding 7-0 lead over Mississippi State. The Bulldog's sole run would come off a solo shot in the fifth, but they were never able to challenge Tennessee’s lead.
The hot streak continued into the fifth inning as the Big Orange recorded two more runs off three hits. Freshman Lair Beautae put the final nail in the coffin as she hit a grounder up the middle getting the runner across and walking off the opening game of the series 9-1.
Accompanied by the outstanding offense, Ashley Rogers held it down in the circle. Rogers had 6 strikeouts in four innings and gave up just two hits. She was replaced in the fifth by Nicola Simpson who managed to close the final inning.
The win was no doubt a confidence builder for Tennessee, as it moves forward in the series. While a solid victory, Weekly knows the importance of competing at a high level.
“The game plan is to treat tomorrow like Friday night,” Weekly said. “We’ve been in this league for too long to know that you can beat a team pretty good Friday and it's a whole different team on Saturday. We have got to come in with a fresh perspective and earn our win.”