Tennessee shut out South Carolina 3-0 to take game one of the series on Friday night.
Behind a strong offensive and defensive performance from Katie Taylor, the No. 4 Lady Vols (40-7, 18-4 SEC) moved one step closer to an SEC regular season championship with a win over the Gamecocks (33-18, 8-14 SEC). Taylor was 2-2 on the night with a walk and scored once.
“[Taylor] got us going,” Weekly said. “That pitch she got to ignite that inning turned the order over. They did not give her much to hit, but we made things happen.”
Ashley Rogers struggled early in the circle, hitting Jordan Fabian and walking Zoe Laneaux. With the base runners on second and third with two outs, Jen Cummings walked while Fabian took off for home. Fabian was tagged out at the plate to end the inning without a run scored. Tennessee loaded the bases with a McKenna Gibson double and two walks, but South Carolina pitcher Leah Powell struck out Mackenzie Donihoo looking to prevent any runs from crossing the plate.
Two runners reached against Rogers in the second inning, but a groundout and a lineout kept the contest scoreless. After walks by Giulia Koutsoyanopulos and Taylor, Karsen Ochs entered to pitch for the Gamecocks and recorded the final two outs of the inning.
Rogers sent the Gamecocks down in order in the top of the third inning. Gibson opened the bottom half of the inning with a base hit, but pinch runner Brylee Mesusan was caught stealing second base. Neither of the two following batters could reach base.
After Rogers recorded three straight outs in the top of the fourth, Donihoo hit a home run into right field to open the scoring. Taylor and Kiki Milloy reached with two outs later in the inning but could not be driven in.
“That was the first real blow tonight,” Weekly said. “Someone has got to show the way. We were kind of scuffling and trying to figure things out, and that was a huge momentum booster for us.”
A Jordan Fabian single was all the Gamecocks could muster in the top of the fifth. With runners on second and third base and one out, Bailey Betenbaugh enters to pitch for South Carolina and gets out of the jam without allowing a run.
Riley Blampied opened the sixth inning with a single but was thrown out by Rylie West trying to stretch the play to a double. No other Gamecock hitters could reach. After consecutive singles by Taylor and Milloy, both scored on an error while Beautae is at the plate.
Although there was some confusion on the play, Taylor trusted the voice of her coach as to what she needed to do.
“I saw the ball go up, so automatically I knew to tag,” Taylor said. “I just went as soon as [Weekly] said go.”
Although two runners reached in the seventh inning, Rogers completed her shutout with the help of a diving catch in foul territory by Taylor.
Even though Rogers did not have a perfect outing, she found a way to maintain the shutout.
“Ashley was not the strongest to night, but she has guts,” Weekly said. “She just willed us to win.”
A win tomorrow for Tennessee would guarantee the first regular season conference title for the program since 2007.
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