KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - A pair of early home runs powered No. 10 Tennessee past Charleston Southern on Friday evening, 12-3, at the Knoxville Regional of the NCAA Tournament held at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium.
It was a historic moment for the Charleston Southern softball team as the Buccaneers made their first trip to the NCAA postseason in program history and CSU threatened to go-ahead in the top of the first inning behind back-to-back singles by Amanda Matsumoto and Stephanie Sbardella. However, the Tennessee defense shut down the CSU offense in the frame and home runs by Annie Andrete and Haley Tobler in the bottom half of the first gave the Lady Vols a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way as the Bucs fell in the opening game of the tournament.
"I'm proud of the way we continued to fight throughout the game," commented CSU head coach Shane Winkler. "We continued to swing the bats extremely well. We had a couple of hard-hit balls, base runners every inning and opportunities to score. So, to put up three runs shows that the kids were fighting and we believe that we can continue to fight throughout the weekend."
Charleston Southern (27-32-1) is back in action tomorrow afternoon and will face Lipscomb in an elimination game at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium with first pitch between the Bucs and the Bisons set for 4:30 p.m. Lipscomb fell in the opening game of the tournament on Friday afternoon to Virginia Tech, 4-3.
"We had a good game plan coming into the evening," Winkler said about the contest. "The kids have swung the bats well for quite a while now throughout the latter part of the season. We've been out-hitting our opponents in a lot of our games, we were aggressive on balls over the plate and we squared some balls up well. Now we just need to go ahead and turn the page and see what we need to do to compete with Lipscomb tomorrow."
The Buccaneers were unable to overcome early pitching woes as Charleston Southern walked 11 batters over the first four innings as the Lady Vols constantly had runners on base, capitalizing on two CSU errors in building their lead.
"Win or lose, all glory to God," Winkler said. "Our kids are great and they fight hard. Tennessee is a top 10 team in the country for a reason. You can't give a team like that too many opportunities. We found ourselves getting out of a lot of trouble in the Big South Tournament, but a team like that is going to capitalize on it."
Charleston Southern opened the game with back-to-back singles as the Buccaneers threatened to jump out to an early lead against the host Lady Vols. Matsumoto led off the inning by beating out an infield single, while Jessica Brock followed with a single to left to put two runners on with none out. However, a failed sacrifice bunt attempt by Sbardella halted the CSU momentum as Renfroe retired the next three batters in order to end the CSU inning.
In the bottom half of the frame, the Lady Vols sent 13 batters to the plate with eight runs scoring in the frame, highlighted by a three-run shot by Annie Aldrete and a two-run shot by Haley Tobler to give Tennessee the early lead. Aldrete added a two-run single later in the frame, while Madison Shipman drew a bases-loaded walk to give Tennessee the 8-0 win after the first inning.
The Buccaneers put two more on base in the top of the second as Hayes Holdsworth drew a four pitch walk and Georgi DeLio drilled one of the hardest hit balls of the game with a single off the wall in right centerfield. DeLio's shot left a dent in the wall to put runners on the corners with none out, but Renfroe again rallied to retired the next three batters to keep CSU off the scoreboard.
Megan Geer, Shipman and Aldrete all had RBI in the bottom of the second inning as the Lady Vols loaded the bases against CSU reliever Morgan Dowdy. Geer singled in Tobler, while Shipman and Aldrete drew back-to-back walks to put the score at 11-0 after two innings.
Matsumoto drove in the first postseason run in CSU softball history bringing in Hayes Holdsworth with two outs in the frame on a bloop single to left field in the top of the fourth inning to put the Buccaneers on the board. Brandy Galaviz followed with an RBI single through the left side of the infield driving in Ari Tedesco on her first hit of the postseason, while Stephanie Sbardella followed with a hard-hit shot through the third baseman's legs, driving in Matsumoto to narrow the margin down to 11-3. However, time ran out on the Buccaneers rally as CSU was unable to cut deeper into the gap in falling to the Lady Vols.
Following the Charleston Southern rally in the top of the fourth, Aldrete answered in the bottom of the inning against CSU reliever Jennifer Giles with an error by the CSU defense allowing Rainey Gaffin to score on the play to put the score at 12-3.
Cheyenne Gandara (11-12) suffered the loss on the evening for the Buccaneers as the CSU pitching staff struggled to find the plate in the contest, issuing a season-high 11 walks. The CSU freshman hurler went 0.2 innings in the game before giving way to Dowdy who went an inning in relief. Giles closed out the game inside the circle for the Buccaneers, going the final 2.1 innings in allowing two hits and one run, while striking out two in the contest.
Renfroe (27-6) picked up the victory for the Lady Vols as the right-hander went three shutouts innings against the Bucs, allowing four hits. Gaffin went 0.2 innings in relief in allowing all three runs, while Erin Gabriel closed out the contest on the rubber with three strikeouts over the final 1.1 innings to record the Tennessee victory.
Matsumoto led the Bucs on the day with two hits in the game, while Tennessee's offense was led by Geer's three hit day. Aldrete finished with a game-high six RBI for the Lady Vols.