Facing a six-run deficit going into the bottom of the fifth inning, No. 4 Tennessee came back due to a seventh-inning rally to defeat No. 14 Florida 11-10.
“I’m so proud of them because it was messy,” head coach Karen Weekly said following the game. “A game like that is going to be. The energy, the fight and the toughness never wavered in this dugout.”
Tennessee football head coach Josh Heupel threw out the first pitch to begin the festivities. Before he threw out the pitch, Heupel spent some time learning from the Tennessee pitching staff in the bullpen and warming up.
Starting pitcher Karlyn Pickens allowed four runs in the first inning. A Charla Echols single scored the first run, while Kendra Falby scored on an errant throw. Pal Egan’s sacrifice fly plated Echols. The final run of the inning came from a Sarah Longley base hit up the middle.
It did not take long for Tennessee to answer, as Zaida Puni hit a three-run home run into left field, driving in Lair Beautae and McKenna Gibson. The homer would have been a grand slam if Kiki Milloy was not called out for leaving first base before the pitch release earlier in the inning.
After walking Avery Goelz to start the second inning, Nicola Simpson entered to pitch for Pickens. Simpson’s outing started well with her recording two outs, but an Echols single and an RBI double from Reagan Walsh allowed Goelz to score.
The Lady Vols went down in order in the bottom of the second inning. After a fielding error and a fielder’s choice, Simpson was pulled in favor of Ryleigh White. White allowed a walk and RBI singles by Skylar Wallace and Falby. Charli Orsini entered to pitch following Falby’s hit and recorded the final out of the inning.
A walk from Beautae was all the Tennessee offense could muster in the bottom of the third. Similarly, a walk from Egan is all the Gators can achieve in the top of the fourth, while Tennessee goes down in order in the bottom half of the inning despite a base hit from Giulia Koutsoyanopulos.
Florida scored two runs in the top of the fifth due to an error from Mackenzie Donihoo on a plate appearance from Walsh. Milloy clawed back a portion of the lead with a solo home run to center field. One hit batter was the only blemish to Orsini’s performance in the top of the sixth.
The Tennessee offense exploded in the sixth, scoring seven runs before recording an out. Puni was hit by a pitch to begin the inning. A Donihoo base hit put two runners aboard. Koutsoyanopulos drove the first run of the inning in to score on a fielding error.
Rylie West drove in two with a double. Jamison Brockenbrough walked and Katie Taylor was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Milloy tied the game with a two-run double, erasing the six-run deficit from the middle of the fifth, while Beautae drove two in with a base hit. Three straight outs ended the inning, but the damage was already done.
Wallace led off the seventh inning with a center field home run, cutting the lead to one. Falby walked, but Payton Gottshall, who entered at the beginning of the inning, recorded three outs to finish the game.
“I am actually speechless,” Weekly said of her team’s performance. “I really don’t know what to say about it other than it was something that we had not done this year. We had a lot of games where we weren’t put in that position, and as a coach I was hoping we would have to prove that at some point.”
Weekly credits Milloy’s presence as the reason the comeback was possible.
“Kiki is our emotional leader,” Weekly said. “She led us from the very beginning, and everybody followed her. They all buy in. I’m just so proud of the team and how they came together tonight.”
Milloy was proud of the team around her after the comeback.
“I think I’m just so proud of this team,” Milloy said. “It’s just love. That’s the only way I can explain it. I just have so much love for this team. It wasn’t pretty in the beginning, but it’s not how you start, it’s about how you finish, and I think we finished this game.”
Tennessee will go for the sweep on Monday evening.
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