Tennessee softball earned a decisive game three victory Sunday, besting No. 8 Kentucky 5-2 to win its first SEC series of the season. In achieving this milestone, the Lady Vols improved to 28-6 on the year and 4-5 in SEC play.
The Wildcats have not fared well against Tennessee in Knoxville. In its history, Kentucky is now 0-10 in series as the away team against the Lady Vols.
"We told our kids before we played Liberty that this week was going to be statement week,” co-head coach Ralph Weekly said. “We worked and worked and worked to be ready to fight."
Sunday’s matchup was similar to Friday, as the dominant pitching of Ashley Rogers continued to stifle Kentucky batters. The Lady Vols ace threw 13 strikeouts, allowing just two runs off two hits. With her performance today, Rogers sits alone atop the SEC standings with 170 total strikeouts on the year.
An Ally Shipman double to left field started off the day for the Lady Vols. Two Tennessee runners scored after a Kentucky error following the swing, giving Tennessee its first lead in the bottom of the second.
The top of the third was the weakest defensive performance for the Lady Vols. A leadoff fly ball from Kayla Kowalik went through the glove of Kiki Milloy, giving way for a Kentucky run to score. Though the sun presented a problem to outfielders of both teams, this was Tennessee’s only error compared to three from the Wildcats. Rogers soon ended the inning with two Wildcats left on base, the score sitting at 2-1.
The Lady Vols answered well in the bottom of the third. After a Cailin Hannon single to center field, Ashley Morgan sent an Autumn Humes pitch over the fence with a two-run homer to give Tennessee a hefty 4-1 lead.
"I think (Morgan’s home run) was the turning point in the game, really. Kentucky is a momentum team just like we are. … We like to say all the time that hitting encourages more hitting, and that’s what it did today," Weekly said.
In the fourth, Tennessee recorded three more hits, driving in a run to make it a 5-1 contest. Kentucky, on the other hand, couldn’t get anything going after Morgan’s two-run bomb. Rogers recorded four strikeouts in the top of the fourth and fifth innings, which went by quickly for Kentucky batters as the Tennessee lead grew.
“(Rogers) was pretty amazing. She’s one of the top pitchers I’ve ever seen,” Weekly said. “She’s strong, the ball has a lot of movement, and she’s able to locate it very well.”
In the top of the sixth, however, Rogers proved she was mortal. A leadoff home run by Kowalik grew Kentucky’s lead ever closer, but Rogers once again turned up the heat and closed the inning out without any more damage to the Lady Vols’ lead.
Just as the Lady Vols had responded in the third, they did so again in the bottom of the sixth. This time, a Cailin Hannon single brought Anna Fox home from second to give the lady Vols an ultimately insurmountable 6-2 lead.
A hitless effort from Kentucky in the final seventh inning solidified the series win for the Lady Vols, who now look ahead to a midweek doubleheader against Tennessee Tech at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium on Tuesday.